Catherine “Cappy” Kennon, 71, died March 20, 2018, in Burnsville. She died in her home, perched on Poverty Hill, surrounded by the artistry of a handmade life, a companionable cat, and the magic of spring coming to the Carolina mountains. There’s irony to Catherine leaving the world from Poverty Hill: hers was a richly textured life and she came into it a mile high. She was born in Denver on September, 28, 1947, to Scott Walker Key, Jr., and Lucile Sam Brewer. She was their second daughter, following sister Carolyn by a little less than two years. It was Carolyn whose failure to properly annunciate “th” gave Cappy a name that stuck with her for life.
Catherine fell in love with horses at a young age and competed in shows into her early teens. In the summers, she and Carolyn headed to Camp Wilaha in the Rockies, where days were flooded by sunshine and nights were a cascade of stars. After graduating from George Washington High School, Catherine attended just one year at Whitman College before her plans were derailed by her parents’ financial difficulties.
Catherine’s free spirit aligned well with the late 1960s, and she headed to California to live in a commune. However, her work ethic did not, so she soon left the group in favor of company more inclined to get a job. Catherine was never afraid of work. From a job in a fish cannery in Alaska to running a lumberyard from the “secretary’s office” to building a thriving pottery business with her partner, she combined capable hands, a sharp mind, and a strong spirit to craft a life for herself. Catherine was married for a short time to William Burnett, living with him in Omaha. But soon, she returned home to the mountains.
Catherine’s search for fulfillment led to lifelong involvement with Transcendental Meditation, as well as exploration of her artistic side. While working days in the lumber yard, she spent evenings and weekends learning to throw pots on a wheel in her basement. One summer, she went to Aspen to improve her technique. By the end of the course, she had gotten more than she’d bargained for. Tracy Dotson, a Texan with a talent for kiln building, had swept her off her feet. He followed her to Denver, romancing her with surprise picnics over the lunch hour, then took her home with him to Texas where he lit a whole woods with Christmas tree lights just to impress her.
Catherine and Tracy married and moved to North Carolina to establish a studio. Catherine attended workshops at Penland School of Crafts, and the couple established their signature glaze—a deep blue “fish scale”—that proved quite popular. They bought land near Penland and began to build, first a studio with a living space above, then a house, then a meditation shed with a window looking down on the creek—each building crafted with care and whimsy. “The Pottery” was an artistic expression, constantly changing and growing over the years of their marriage. The couple divorced in 2007, and Catherine moved to Burnsville.
After more than 25 years as a working potter, Catherine retired her wheel. Over the years, her interest in crafts ranged beyond pottery. She taught herself to weave, knitted lace, and did much of the design work for the North Carolina properties she called home. Cappy will live on now in clay and fiber, gracing our spaces, and connecting us, one to another, with the stories that belong to beautiful things made by family hands.
Catherine is survived by her sister Carolyn Key Swain, nephew Mark Raboin Swain, and niece Heather Cresap Swain. A memorial meeting will be held to remember Catherine at 2 P.M. Saturday, March 31, 2018 at Celo Friends Meeting in Burnsville. Memorials may be made to Penland School of Crafts Scholarship Funds, P.O. Box 37, Penland, NC 28765.