Highlights from the 2015 NCECA Conference

Highlights from the 2015 NCECA Conference

Installation view of "Apprenticelines: Divergence/Continuity/Community"

Installation view of "Apprenticelines: Divergence/Continuity/Community," on exhibit during the 2015 NCECA conference at the Pawtucket Armory Arts Center in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

With more than 100 exhibitions, dozens of lectures, panels, and demonstrations, and 4,800 participants, the 49th annual conference of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) held March 25-28, was a visual and aural feast.

This year, director of education Perry Price and I had the honor of attending the conference to co-present on the ACC’s recently completed oral history project focused on potters from Minnesota’s St. Croix Valley. As attendees we also enjoyed taking in all the glorious programming that NCECA had to offer.

Now that we’ve had a few days to reflect on all that was seen, heard, and experienced, Perry and I would like to share a few highlights (in no particular order) from our conference experience with the caveat that this list is far from representative of all the remarkable activities that took place over four days.

Roundtable Discussion: Pass the Peas: Food, Objects, and the Making of Community
While the keynote address on the history of table traditions by food writer and scholar Dr. Frederick Douglas Opie was enlightening, we were really taken by the roundtable discussion with the author the following morning. Moderated by scholar (and ACC trustee) Namita Wiggers and featuring art historian Aruna D’Souza, ceramists Julia Galloway and Vipoo Srivilasa, and Opie, the conversation began with each participant’s personal “bowl story” (spoiler alert: bowls get broken) and moved on to ideas on how to use food and ceramics to create more sharing communities before ending with a lively Q&A. Listen to a podcast of the conversation.

Demonstrating Artists
One of the unique pleasures of the NCECA conference is the characteristic artists’ demonstrations throughout the day. The brief, technique-specific presentations are consistently teeming with attendees – even the overflow video viewing areas were packed. Most enjoyable were the longer demonstrations, framed as a conversation between two artists who share the stage as well as the audience. Watching Linda Christianson trim while joyfully reminiscing with former students was remarkable.

Reading Room
New to this year’s conference was the NCECA/Arizona State University Ceramics Research Center Reading Room, a collection of recent catalogs, journals, monographs, and other scholarly publications for attendees to puruse. Initiated by scholar Ezra Shales and curated by Garth Johnson, the ASU Art Museum curator of ceramics, the Reading Room featured everything from scholarly publications about Native American pottery to new titles from German publisher Arnoldsche. Every time we passed by, the Reading Room was packed with visitors previewing the best in ceramics publishing. Fortunately for booklovers, you can view the 2015 list of Reading Room titles.

The New Apprenticeship Project Panel and Exhibition
Moderated by writer, artist, and mentor, Mark Shapiro, the panel featured presentations by two emergent ceramists with apprentice experience, Daniel Johnston and Lucie Brisson, as well as curator Louise Cort, who spoke to the history of apprenticeship. Focusing on the question of “How to bring apprenticeship to the 21st century?” the panelists discussed factors like the explosion in tuition costs that have increased the appeal of apprenticeship today, as well as their personal successes and failures as mentors and mentees. For would-be apprentices, the panel offered insight on how to reach out to mentors and engage with the community through writing and reflection. For potential mentors, the notions of holistic approach and mutual exchange highlighted the benefits of getting involved.

Accompanying the panel discussion was an exhibition at the Pawtucket Armory Arts Center titled “Apprenticelines: Divergence/Continuity/Community” that was organized by Shapiro and surveyed the connection between artists and apprentices. The use of several prominent lines and the mugs of participating artists and apprentices gave the viewer an impactful impression of the meaningful connection between the two. For more information on this ongoing dialogue visit the New Apprenticeship Project website.

Gallery Expo
The NCECA conference seems able to combine the many diverse facets of the ceramics field into one uber experience, including finding a new treasure to take home. This year, the gallery expo featured nine galleries exhibiting a wonderful range of work available for sale. Not to be missed was the frenzy of the Cup Sale, with more than 1,100 cups (a new record!) donated in support of NCECA’s Fund for Artistic Development.

The 2015 Emerging Artists Talks
This year’s honored emerging artists gave warm presentations about their work and in thanks to the organization. Of particular note was the moving and emotional presentation by Roberto Lugo, who brought the audience to their feet with his passionate account of what working in the medium and in the community has given to him.

Ceramic Exhibitions Hosted at the Rhode Island School of Design and Surrounds
Within 15 minutes walking distance from the conference, the area galleries and museums surrounding the Rhode Island School of Design teemed with excellent shows this year that were too numerous to recount. Of particular note though, were exhibitions featuring ACC Fellows, including Val M. Cushing at the Providence Art Club and "Jim Melchert: Incubator for Ideas" at RISD's ISB Gallery. The 2015 NCECA Biennial at the David Winton Bell Gallery, List Art Center, Brown University, featured works by 49 artists and was juried by Linda Christianson, studio potter, Jo-Ann Conklin, director of the David Winton Bell Gallery, and Anders Ruhwald, head of ceramics at the Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Closing Lecture: Anecdotal Evidence by Jack Troy
NCECA does an amazing job of selecting masters from the ceramics field to deliver the closing conference lecture. We’ve marveled in the past at seeing such greats as Cynthia Bringle, Clayton Bailey, and Robert Brady. This year was no different, as the humble and humorous Jack Troy took the stage. Blowing into a 500-year-old carved whistle to switch between topics, Troy entertained the audience with tales of his childhood (including his fascination with his brother’s tonsils), as well as his introduction to ceramics in 1962 while teaching high school English. He also reflected on past NCECA conferences and the contributions he made as the author of many distinguished ceramic texts, including his first in 1977: Salt Glazed Ceramics. A masterful storyteller and artist, Troy closed by talking about intention and happenstance, and how these things, as well as books such as The Gift by Lewis Hyde, have inspired him creatively. Watch for Troy’s illuminating lecture to be available on the NCECA YouTube channel soon.

Next year will be the 50th anniversary for NCECA, and one can bet that the conference “Makers, Mentors and Milestones” in Kansas City, Missouri, will not disappoint. Keep an eye open for the development of "Across the Table, Across the Land," curated by Michael Strand and Namita Wiggers. Introduced in Providence, it will culminate in an exhibition at next year’s conference. For a full NCECA recap, check out the NCECA Journal, an annual publication that documents all the lectures, exhibitions, awards, and demonstrations that take place at the conference, or visit the NCECA blog, where recordings from the 2015 conference are being added daily.