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Teapot museum is still steeped in controversy

Sparta’s little teapot museum is short of funds, so it won’t be as stout as imagined. And unless it can get a handle on some more money or new contributors, it might not have many, if any, spouts to tout.

The proposed museum drew widespread attention two years ago when it received $900,000 in state and federal money. Backers said the extensive teapot collection of Los Angeles millionaire Sonny Kamm would draw tourists from the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway to the town of less than 2,000. Critics derided it as wasteful pork-barrel spending. But even with the public money, museum organizers quickly realized they couldn’t raise enough to build the $12 million, 30,000-square-foot museum first proposed, so they scaled it back, says Bryan Edwards, town manager and a museum board member.

The revised blueprint shrank floor space to 16,000 square feet, and exhibit space withered to half what Kamm demanded, so he pulled out and stashed his pots in a local warehouse. Though he has loaned a small exhibit to a temporary, storefront museum, organizers are proceeding as if he’s out of the picture. “We still have a dialogue with him,” Edwards says. “But he is not, at this point in time, a participant in the project.”

Edwards hopes the museum will still have teapots but isn’t sure where it’s going to get them if Kamm doesn’t donate at least part of his 7,000-10,000-piece collection. “We have had discussions with other collectors but certainly no one with the breadth of collection that Mr. Kamm has.” Though the museum’s original reason for being seems to have evaporated, it still has more than $4 million in the bank and is trying to raise more. Directors recently voted to sell most of its five-acre tract.

Cynthia Grant, the museum’s new director, says it has tentatively been renamed The Sparta Teapot Museum of Craft and Design. It recently sponsored an exhibit, 45 Years of Inspired Design: A Celebration of Piedmont Craftsmen, which might set the tone for future rotating exhibits of pottery and similar arts. Regardless of format, she says, “our goal is to have a museum built within three years.”

MARIONSwift Galey plans to close its plant this month, putting about 280 out of work. The Atlanta-based textile maker cited international competition.

VALDESEBurke Mills will close Nov. 1, idling nearly 130. It dyes yarn used in the furniture and automotive industries, but too many customers had moved overseas and found other suppliers.

MARIONMaverick Boat closed its Cobia Boats plant here. Nearly 70 workers lost their jobs. The Fort Pierce, Fla.-based manufacturer blamed the slow economy.

WOODFIN — Federal immigration agents arrested 59 employees after raiding Mills Manufacturing‘s parachute plant. Agents say workers used fraudulent documentation to get jobs. The factory is not under investigation. It employs about 175.

HENDERSONVILLESelee, which makes ceramics used in the automotive and defense industries, will add 23 jobs by mid-November. That will bring employment to about 200.

CHEROKEE — Principal Chief Michell Hicks vetoed a bid by the Tribal Council of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to hold a referendum on selling alcohol at the tribe’s casino. Proponents say alcohol would boost gambling revenue.