Clay Culture: National Clay Week

For the past three years, National Clay Week has coordinated with artists and organizations to schedule online and in-person events during a one-week period to bring together the wider ceramics community.

Celebrate, Connect, Educate

The founders of National Clay Week (NCW) had a vision—to create an online framework where the ceramics community could engage in a celebration of all facets of clay. Every March we gather in a city in the US and attend lectures, watch demos, talk to vendors and institutions, as well as attend shows and connect as a community for the annual National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) conference. There is no reason, in the digital age, this has to be limited to once a year. Just as learning is a life-long journey, the community in clay, the opportunities for growth, and the connections we make should be sustained. National Clay Week hopes to facilitate just that. Using social media platforms, NCW is able to provide diverse content for free, globally, and accessible to anyone with an internet connection. No borders, no expensive flights. Teachers can bring the experience into their classrooms, artists can take part from their studios, and we can all share our passion, imagination, and love for this material that brings us together.

Building a Team

National Clay Week began as an idea in 2015 between two friends and ceramic artists, Stephen Creech and Lindsay Oesterritter, with the ambition of uniting and supporting communities, furthering education, and celebrating ceramics in all its forms. After creating the foundations, they reached out to me. I was formerly social media director for NCECA, and they asked me to lead the social media communications. They then turned to several prominent educators, artists, and organizations to help create content and curate engaging projects for the week. The first year included teams led by Carole Epp, Brian Harper, Melissa Yungbluth, Brett Kern, Jeni Hansen Gard and members of the Socially Engaged Craft Collective, and partnerships with Make and Do and ArtAxis; subsequent years have seen more partnerships with artists, studios, non-profits, and companies. Hopefully this will continue to grow as the audience expands.

Matt Fiske’s oil-spot glazes under the scanning electron microscope at Utah State University, #ncwnutsandbolts, 2016.

Topics and Themes, Day by Day

For the first year (2016), National Clay Week established five topics, one for each day. Within these topics, projects and hashtags were created that both provide content and encourage audience participation. The second year (2017), an overarching theme of community was chosen, and each day’s topic involved a community-driven project that engaged both the greater ceramics world and local communities. This year, National Clay Week (October 8–14, 2018) explored the theme of industry, from discussions with artists who use industrial processes to going behind the scenes in manufacturing operations.

• Monday: “Using Handmade” in 2016 saw Canadian ceramics organization Make and Do hosting the @nationalclayweek social media with the hashtags #mondaymorningmaker highlighting works in progress, #ncwmugshot, and #secondlifehandmade, telling the stories of re-used objects in art and life. In 2017, NCW celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving, partnering with Carole Epp again to publish The Crafted Dish: A Canadian Ceramics Cookbook, (available @thecrafteddish), featuring recipes photgraphed on dishes made by Canadian artists. For 2018, National Clay Week teamed up with Heath Ceramics to take a look inside their design and innovation studio where their artists create new forms and glazes for their production lines.

• Tuesday: “Clay Conversations” #ncwconversations began as a partnership with ArtAxis for a day of live conversations with members of ArtAxis’ network. In 2016, these conversations were hosted on the app, Periscope; questions were collected from the public beforehand on artaxis.org, as well as live on Periscope. In 2017, for the community theme, these conversations went global, with 24 artists hosting 12 hours of live conversations on Facebook from 16 different countries. This year, ArtAxis once more hosted conversations with members who use industrial processes and who have collaborated with industry in their careers. This included Mac McCusker, Adam Chau, Ashwini Bhat, Christina Erives, Daniel Bare, Paul Donnelly, and Adam Shiverdecker, among others.

• Wednesday: “Collaborations” In 2016, the day was spent talking to 15 artists and artist groups who work collaboratively, also on Periscope for live, interactive conversations.  In 2017, NCW partnered with Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG) Youth & Arts for a look into their after-school programming with at-risk youth and Clementine Porcelain shared their Plate Project, raising money for the Backpack Program that provides meals for students who experience food scarcity. They both live-streamed on Instagram, and Clementine held a live plate auction. In 2018, NCW officially partnered with NCECA, alongside 92nd Street Y, to co-host the second annual #GlobalDayofClay, encouraging a worldwide celebration and connection of the broader world of clay, beyond the studio and gallery and into every facet of clay.

2 The National Clay Week team at NCECA 2017, from left to right: founders Stephen Creech and Lindsay Oesetrritter, with then social media director Amanda Barr.

• Thursday: “Nuts and Bolts” This is the day for techniques and details. In 2016, there were virtual tours of Standard Ceramic’s clay manufacturing process; a tour and live demonstration from the West Virginia University production studio; a live, interactive Periscope demo with Brett Kern on making master rubber molds, then with Todd Hayes on DIY trimming tools (complete with PDF); finishing with looking at glazes under a scanning electron microscope with Matt Fiske. In 2017, NCW visited The Pottery Workshop in China through their partnership with West Virginia University. Artists from both programs participated in livestreams, roundtable discussions, and demonstrations, streamed from historic Jingdezhen’s porcelain workshops. In 2018, John Michael Kohler Arts Center shared a series of videos about the manufacturing process and former artists-in-residence spoke about their work and time at Kohler. Featured artists included Michelle Grabner, Mary Anne Kluth, Ghada Amer, and Edra Soto.

• Friday: “Social Engagement” and “Open Studios” In 2016, this day was hosted by the Socially Engaged Craft Collective (SECC). There were several projects, starting with Project Canary, that shared stories of real life repercussions of politics through ceramic objects. Cups of Conversations involved 50 artists in 50 states. The Social Craft Marathon Live was on YouTube hosted by the SECC. Finally, there was the jurying of the Community Outreach and Social Engagement Project Award, funded by Amaco and awarded to Gina Tibbot for her Ancient Kiln Project.

Friday’s Social Engagement theme morphed in 2017 into the weekend-long National Clay Week Open Studios, hosted by Ben Carter and based on the Australian Ceramic Association’s annual event. Open Studios is a nationwide, and even global, event that celebrates clay, community, and creativity. Participating studios open their doors and host events centered around clay to welcome their communities into their spaces and practice and share the joy of our medium. NCW provides a press packet, logo, signage, press releases, and other materials to participating studios, and promotes the events on social media and the website.

In 2018, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday again celebrate NCW Open Studios, back for its second iteration to connect studios across the country and encourage the development of a larger audience within communities. Visit www.nationalclayweek.org to sign up to host or to find the event nearest you.

3 A design student at MCG Youth & Arts, Khai, works on a collaborative ceramics project as part of #ncwcollaborations in 2017.

4 A page from The Crafted Dish, featuring artist Krystal Speck, from #ncwusinghandmade in 2017.

The Future

In the future, National Clay Week hopes to partner with more individuals and organizations that further their mission to celebrate, connect, and educate on a variety of topics surrounding clay. NCW wants to be part of classrooms, studios, businesses or non-profits, and help artists engage with a broader audience. This year, NCW was joined by a new group of volunteers and interns as it continues to grow and expand. Follow the blog (www.nationalclayweek.org/our-progress), sign up for the email list, and make sure to follow along on Facebook (www.facebook.com/nationalclayweek) and Instagram (www.instagram.com/nationalclayweek).

the author Amanda Barr is an artist and educator currently working on her MFA in ceramics and her MA in art history at the University of Montana in Missoula. A habitual nomad, she has lived in six states and four countries in the past 15 years; most recently she enjoyed several years in Seattle. To learn more, visit www.amandambarr.com.

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