Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, Ceramic Arts Network Editor: We have just returned and are trying to catch our breath after the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) conference March 27–30, 2019 in one of my favorite clay cities, Minneapolis, Minnesota. While the conference is fresh in our minds, we thought we would share some reflections on the week. As usual, the conference was a whirlwind—so much great artwork to see, friends to catch up with, and new friends to meet! Each of our editors have written about their observations from the conference and you can read below.
This year, we recorded a couple of new videos for our CLAYflicks exclusive Talking Clay series, featuring Simon Levin. First, Simon chatted with Sam Harvey, Molly Berger, Justin Donofrio and John Cohorst about going on tour with the ArtStream Nomadic Gallery. Then he sat down with Didem Mert and Neil Celani, two amazing young ceramic superstars, about the similarities and differences in their paths to clay, as well as their perspectives on the future of our field. These conversations will be added to a growing collection of interviews and conversations on CLAYflicks in the coming months, so be on the lookout!
Ash Neukamm, Art Books and Ceramic Arts Network Assistant Editor: This year, I was fortunate enough to be asked to jury the ICAN 2019 Juried Exhibition and I was impressed by the quality of work submitted. That said, I was totally blown away by the selected works when I unpacked and helped set up the exhibition. I loved talking with the ICAN members, and especially found joy in talking to several of the selected artists about their excitement at being included in the show. Speaking with Lori Dresner about the acceptance of her piece, Fish Dreams, was a refreshing moment. She also shared images of work she was currently making in her studio and it inspired me to get into the studio when I returned home. I also had the opportunity to meet with several potential authors for new books that we might be publishing. It’s too soon to share any details, but we’re very excited about the possibilities!
Jessica Knapp, Editor, Ceramics Monthly and Associate Editor, Pottery Making Illustrated: During this year’s NCECA conference, I was impressed by the technical skill and conceptual development demonstrated by the students whose work was included in the National K–12 Ceramics Exhibition. The wide variety of work—from handbuilt and wheel thrown to 3-D printed, and from vessels to abstract and figurative sculptures—is also a testament to the teachers’ dedication to share the breadth of existing work and expressive possibilities with their students.
I also observed and appreciated the interest in combining techniques and materials and using tools like laser cutters, die-cutters, and 3-D printers to move beyond novelty into nuanced explorations of concepts and ideas about contemporary human experiences. Openness and curiosity also fueled the conceptual and material approaches in the works by the emerging and established artists whose abstract sculptures were shown in this year’s NCECA Annual Exhibition “The Form Will Find Its Way.”
The organizers, presenters, curators, and artists participating in this year’s NCECA conference continued to focus on increasing inclusivity both within the field and in terms of exposing the wider community in the host city to the joys of handmade ceramics. From exhibitions at breweries, churches, libraries, and coffee shops to displays at the airport, I enjoyed seeing both Minnesota natives and visitors alike taking time to look at and think about work made by artists from around the world.
Our collective energy and enthusiasm for this medium can be contagious, and it can lead others to getting involved in a variety of ways, from finding their own means of self expression by participating in community arts programs or choosing to seek out and live with meaningful handmade objects.
Katie Sleyman, Ceramics Monthly and Pottery Making Illustrated Editorial Coordinator: This was my first NCECA as a member of the Ceramic Arts Network editorial staff, and I was struck most by the consistently high level of energy and excitement throughout the convention center. From the minute the doors opened, the desire to gather information on techniques and tools, make in-person connections with other artists, and purchase a new addition to personal ceramic collections was contagious and never seemed to fade. It was enriching to see new work, especially by younger and emerging artists, as well as speak with members of the ceramics community about their take on our field. I’m always drawn to work that pushes material boundaries, so I was particularly interested in the abundance of nontraditional ceramic objects, especially jewelry, in a number of exhibitions this year.
Holly Goring, Editor, Pottery Making Illustrated and Associate Editor, Ceramics Monthly, and ICAN Manager: This year’s NCECA brought me back to my hometown, Minneapolis! I loved seeing so many ceramic exhibitions tucked into all of my old haunts. I also enjoyed visiting my alma matter, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, to see it filled with ceramic art and makers, and several past professors lurking in the shadows.
This year’s ICAN Meet & Greet was held at the iconic Brit’s Pub and was a big success. We had a full house with many ICAN members dropping by to say hello, wind down after a busy first day, and take part in the annual raffle for memberships. The 2019 ICAN Juried Exhibition set up in the exhibit hall turned a lot of heads and excited a lot of members to get back in the studio and try a few new techniques.
But, the best part of the whole conference came on the last day when I had a few hours to take my three nieces (ages 10, 8, and 5) to some of the ceramic exhibits around town and watch their reactions to all the amazing pieces. I lost count at how many times I had to say “Don’t touch,” which then turned into a game that I of course lost. We had a great time and it was my best conference yet!