By Mark Wineka
Old Carolina Brick Co. is no stranger to the stars.
Its handmade bricks have been used in the houses of astronaut Neil Armstrong, singer Mariah Carey, race car legend Junior Johnson and Home Depot co-founder and Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank.
So when ESPN wanted to do a feature about bricks, in connection to its NASCAR coverage Sunday of the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis, Ind., producers naturally gravitated to the Salisbury plant where they make brick the way it was done hundreds of years ago.
The two-minute segment, which took a whole day’s of shooting to produce, will be shown about 10 times over this weekend before and after the race.
Made famous by the Indianapolis 500, the old track used to be all brick, but now only a yard-wide strip at the finish line remains as part of the oval’s surface. In recent years, it has become fashionable for the winning drivers and their teams to walk together to the bricks, kneel down and kiss them in unison.
Art Burkhart, vice president of sales and marketing for Old Carolina Brick, said ESPN spent $28,000 on its production, overseen by Kate Jackson.
Jackson’s outfit included award-winning cameraman Bryan Brousseau and his men from New York City and Timothy Hogan, executive producer of Bluefoot Entertainment of Connecticut.
Two trucks of equipment and a crew of six were on the Majolica Road site of Old Carolina Brick July 12. Burkhart said shooting began at 5:30 a.m. and wound up at 4 p.m.
All phases of the Old Carolina Brick were filmed, including the preparation of the clay and how the bricks are thrown, moulded, dried and fired ó just as bricks were made in Moses’ time, Burkhart likes to say.
Burkhart said Jackson was impressed when doors were opened in the fire zone to reveal the bricks baking in the red-hot, 2,000-degree-Fahrenheit kiln, fueled by coal.
Old Carolina Brick is the largest producer of authentic handmade brick in the country.
It has provided and still supplies brick for restoration projects in Colonial Williamsburg, with its trademark Williamstowne brick, and in Charleston, S.C., with its Charlestowne product.
Old Carolina Brick also has played a role in the restoration of President James Madison’s Montpelier home, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the Robert E. Lee birthplace, President William Taft’s home in Cincinnati, Yale University, Old Salem, the Governor’s Mansion in Raleigh and more.
Burkhart said bricks for restoration projects account for about 20 percent of the company’s business.
The bigger market relies on new homes whose owners want the classic, antique beauty of bricks made by hand.
The hand-moulding lends character to the heavy bricks with beveled sides ó distinctive folds, worm grooves, finger marks and other surface irregularities that Burkhart says suggest a Colonial tradition of craftsmanship and history.
In the handmade process, the company also can add specific designs, names, logos, footprints, paw prints and the like to bricks when required.
The firing of the bricks with coal gives them the kind of unique colors seen in bricks made long ago, Burkhart added.
Other notable people who have ended up with handmade bricks from Old Carolina Brick have included actors Andie MacDowell, Richard Gere, George C. Scott, Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck.
Golfers Jack Nicklaus, Davis Love III and Arnold Palmer also have used handmade bricks from Salisbury in their building projects, as have Charlotte banker Hugh McColl, artist Bob Timberlake, racer Bobby Rahal and businessman Lex Wexner.
Burkhart said Armstrong told him he wanted bricks that suggested the moon’s surface and was happy when the company’s Savannah Grey line fit his vision.
Old Carolina Brick has been featured on The History Channel and soon will be part of a story in Our State magazine.
Old Carolina Brick’s business comes from word of mouth and through architects familiar with the company, Burkhart said.
The plant off Majolica Road employs about 50 people. The company’s Gold Hill operation employs 10 but has expansion plans.
Dudley and Katherine Frame of Anniston, Ala., own Old Carolina Brick. Their sons, David and Scott, are both involved in the business. David Frame manages the Old Carolina Brick plant in Gold Hill.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Mark Wineka