Nancy Sweezy has been one of the most influential advocates, scholars, presenters, and preservationists in the field of folk arts, making an especially important contribution to traditional pottery and craft of the American South. Her interest in craft began with pottery lessons in her native New England in the 1950s. That eventually led to an association with Ralph Rinzler, who was then working with the Newport Folk Festival Foundation. Collaborating with Rinzler, she established a craft program and sales operation within the Newport Folk Festival.
Later, Rinzler, Sweezy, and weaver and NEA National Heritage Fellow Norman Kennedy founded the not-for-profit organization Country Roads, Inc., dedicated to the research and marketing of folk crafts. In 1968, Country Roads purchased the historic Jugtown Pottery in Seagrove, North Carolina, and Sweezy moved there to direct the operation. Her efforts included initiating apprenticeship programs, implementing more effective marketing methods, developing new glazes to replace the prohibited traditional lead glazes, and improving firing techniques to make the pottery more durable. She later wrote the authoritative book on Southern pottery for Smithsonian Press entitled Raised in Clay: The Southern Folk Pottery Tradition.
In 1985, Sweezy organized the Refugee Arts Group in Boston and through that organization administered festivals, workshops, exhibitions, apprenticeships, and school programs focusing on Cambodian, Lao, Hmong, and Vietnamese folk artists. In the 1990s, she began a study of Armenian folk crafts, resulting in the Indiana University Press publication Armenian Folk Art, Culture, and Identity. In October of 2005, Nancy Sweezy, along with potter Mark Hewitt, curated the exhibition The Potters Eye: Art and Tradition in North Carolina Pottery at the North Carolina Museum of Art and she and Hewitt wrote the University of North Carolina Press book of the same title.
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