Our Story

Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, Highwater Clays has been blending the earth’s best clays for 30 years.

It all began long ago with a dough mixer and a couple of idealistic people who knew how to make things happen. The year was 1979. Brian and Gail McCarthy arrived in Asheville in a pick-up truck, toting two kids and a tent.

Operations began in an artists’ cooperative studio along the Swannanoa River. In 1985, Brian and Gail acquired a professional mixer, pugmill and warehouse space, and began to build an extraordinary staff, all of which helped them to refine their clay-mixing process. Pound by pound, the Highwater brand began to be recognized as superior clay. During this period, Highwater’s inventory expanded to include glazes, equipment and tools. The business was running out of space.

The solution: a row of brick warehouses along Clingman Avenue in Asheville’s River District. During months of renovations, Brian, Gail and their crew of skilled craftsmen transformed the warehouses into the lofty, airy buildings they are today. In 1994, the Highwater Clays store moved to this location. Later that year, Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts was born, just next door. Odyssey soon expanded to include classes and workshops throughout the year, artist residencies, and its very own ceramics gallery.

In July 2002, Highwater Clays of Florida began offering its professional products and services in the Tampa Bay area. Since then Highwater has been serving schools, art centers, potters and hobbyists with the same great attention to detail and personal service that has always been their trademark. Highwater’s well-stocked retail store and warehouse are located in St. Petersburg at a remarkable 22,000 sq. ft. ceramics center in the Historic Seaboard Train Station. This facility, operated by St. Petersburg Clay Company, boasts studios, gallery and a 4500 sq. ft. kiln shed on several acres of land. Firing options are numerous for the studio members including wood, salt, soda, gas and electric. The center has a resident program and an active workshop and gallery schedule.

Then came 2003. Nine years after the move to Clingman Avenue, there was no more room. Another clever solution was needed. After several months, a 42,000 sq. ft. warehouse was found just 1.5 miles north on the banks of the French Broad River. After months of renovation 600 Riverside Drive became the new home of Highwater Clays including factory, warehouse, store and offices.

This move also included the addition of a new clay mixing system. After considerable research and a year's planning this new screening, mixing, deairing, pugging and bagging system was installed at the new location on Riverside Drive. In the hands of Highwater's skilled personnel, this new machinery delivers superior clay pound after pound after pound. In addition to improved plasticity and consistency, production has increased so that even though more of you are using Highwater Clay, orders are going out as quickly as ever.

Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts remained on Clingman Avenue and soon grew into the empty space left after Highwater's relocation. It was then that Odyssey Studios were born. A fully equipped 6,000 sq. ft. community clay studio was created in addition to a limited number of private studios.

Brian, Gail, their son Jonathan St. Onge and his wife Fei-Wen manage Highwater Clays, and along with a resourceful, expert staff, in both Asheville and St. Petersburg, provide you with the best ceramic materials and the highest quality of customer service. Odyssey Center for the Arts with its school, studio and gallery has become an integral part of a thriving community and an important player in Asheville's flourishing River Art's District. Odyssey has become a place where ceramic artists from across the country and from all levels of experience come for challenge and inspiration.

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