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Magic in Murphy

Standing at a stark 5’8”, Rob Winthrow looks almost childish in comparison to his 8-foot pot, shaped like a gnome. “He hasn’t been named yet,” said Winthrow. “Usually it takes me a couple of weeks to figure out what I want to name them.”

This was the first and only encounter that I would ever have with the bearded man, whose smile was as infectious and warm. The ease with which he began unfolding his life before me was as if he were narrating his biography—only stopping the narrative to take small sips of black coffee.

“I originally grew up in Colorado where I spent most of my younger life,” said Winthrow. It wasn’t until after I stopped working labor jobs, that I found I wanted to do something artistic with my hands.”

At the time, Winthrow hadn’t a clue what that idea meant. Using your hands? He had no sense of direction, no driving force, no influence, he simply wanted to do something with his hands. This started a season of his life, he titled trial and error. During this period, he experimented with a plethora of work including painting, drawing, and constructing, but nothing seemed to stick.

Finally, he received a ceramic kiln from his wife. Having no background or experience in ceramics, Winthrow just began spinning, practicing his new craft each day. His passion quickly grew as he enrolled in classes at John C. Campbell Folk School—an art school in Brasstown, N.C. Here, his work was fostered and encouraged by other local creatives and his skills grew exponentially.

“The Folk School really made an impact on me because it was an environment full of encouraging people all looking to express themselves,” says Winthrow.

Over the last 25 years, Winthrow has resided in his quaint home nestled in the valley of Cherokee County, throwing a variety of pots and vases that have earned him awards in local craft shows. Some of his work is displayed in local shops in both Murphy and neighboring towns. He also has taken up teaching at the Folk School, as a way of giving back to the art community that helped him discover his passion.

“What has always struck me about Murphy is that time stops here. We are literally 20 years behind everyone and that says something about us,” said Winthrow. “In the last 25 years, I never once have had to lock the front door to my home or take the keys out of my truck.”

Winthrow’s love for Murphy extends far beyond his comfort, he even asked me if I wanted to come to his art show to see the work of other Murphy artists. There is an aura about the place as if each person was feeling the same thing that he felt, a common bond amongst all those folded into the jagged mountains. When asked what this is Winthrow says it’s pretty simple:

“It’s magical here, and no, I don’t mean some type of metaphor for magic, I mean the real stuff. This place and these people are truly magical.”

--Jack Hackman


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