NCECA remembers Don Reitz

NCECA remembers Don Reitz

There was a time when I wanted to be just like Don when I grew up. When I did grow up I found it took too much to just keep up.

The first time I met Don I was teaching in Texas and had driven up to Alfred to pick up a wheel on my way to visit family. I remember I was standing in the middle room talking to Val Cushing. Val said, “Here is someone I want you to meet.” Reitz came by almost running. Val reached out to grab his arm…introduced us and went on to talk to Reitz about a firing. Don was all hands and arms in a constant motion, all while turning his head and pulling his mouth to his left in a kind of twitch. In a moment he was gone and it was silent… like after a tornado.

~ Robert Winokur

Don Reitz, a force of nature, elation and perseverance within ceramic art and education for more than five decades passed away on March 19, 2014 at 84 years of age. An extraordinary capstone to his long, creative life, his final day was shared walking the grounds of his Clarksdale, Arizona ranch, discussing new works and firings with dear friend Jun Kaneko.

Born November 7, 1929, in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, Reitz crafted a life of picaresque adventure, resilient creative renewal, and continual artistic exploration. In his youth, he enlisted in the Navy where he worked as a salvage diver working on oilrigs in Saudi Arabia. Upon release from service he lived for a year with an indigenous Canadian trapper named Charlie, absorbing the skills of self-sustaining wilderness living, hunting, trapping, and, perhaps most importantly, attitudes about life that would shape his extended creative career. He then worked as a truck driver, pulled fishing nets in Maine, worked for a time as a sign painter before settling into a trade as a butcher. His restless spirit inspired him to enroll in an art education program at Kutztown State College in Pennsylvania where during his junior year, art education Professor Dr. Harold Mantz introduced Reitz clay. Following graduation in 1957, he taught for a time in Dover, New Jersey public schools.

During this time, Reitz set up a wheel and built a kiln outside his house. Out front he constructed a roadside stand and soon filled it with pots and homegrown vegetables that he offered for sale. But Reitz was not happy with this life, and after developing stress-related health ailments a doctor encouraged him to change direction. Reitz found his way to graduate school at Alfred University’s New York State College of Ceramics. It was there with David Leach that he encountered a transformative experience with a salt firing. The physical engagement with the firing process—alchemical transformation of solid salt crystals into fiery vapor and ultimately glaze—led Reitz to a rich and extended engagement of creation, research, exhibition, teaching, writing and publication.

After leaving Alfred, Reitz accepted a teaching position at the University of Wisconsin. In 1962, he purchased and established a studio and kilns on a 162-acre farm in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. He built a salt kiln and continued experimentation with engobes, glazes and fuming to expand the color palette of the process, which had historically been limited to gray to brown clay bodies with iron and cobalt oxide brushwork. Throughout the 1970s and into the early 80s, Reitz actively expanded the scope and scale of the field through extensive national involvement leading workshops. This platform enabled him to stretch his philosophical and performative capacities in both formal and informal settings, reflecting that these experiences involved as much teaching about life as they did ceramics. In speaking engagements he often wondered aloud “whether we centered the clay or the clay centered us”. In 1982 he suffered nearly fatal injuries in a driving accident near Cincinnati, Ohio following a workshop at the Penland School of Crafts.

The long period of recuperation that followed this trauma was arduous, though uplifted through a deepening relationship with his niece Sarah, then 5 years old and battling cancer. They began a regular exchange of drawings and notes that encouraged Reitz to continue working creatively even throughout this extended period of physical incapacitation. “She’s putting her emotions out into a visual form”, he said, “I have to find out how to do this.” His sensitivity to spontaneous figuration, mark making and color soon worked its way into a new body of clay work that extended Reitz’s expression in clay as a hybridized process of sculpture and painting. “All my heroes drew in the dirt”, he said, “Charlie the Indian, Yukio Yamamoto, my scoutmaster Mr. Hicks, my dad…” Reitz also connected this revitalized interest in mark making, imagery and ideation on clay, to humankind’s earliest ontological impulses in painting. “What we fear, we put on the wall,” he said. “Put it out there so you can see it.”

Don Reitz was a friend of mine for 40 years.  The fact that he was a friend wasn’t unusual – he was a friend to many in the worldwide community of lovers of the ceramic arts.  Don Reitz was an inspiration to me when I was studying, and working in ceramics, and eventually collecting works of his and others – Don’s energy, enthusiasm, knowledge, and expertise infused me and made me want to know even more and work even harder.  The fact that he was an inspiration wasn’t unusual – he inspired people everywhere he taught, which was pretty much everywhere in the world.  His teaching was brilliant, his art exceptional, his mark on the world indelible.  I will miss him and I know that many others will too.

~ Leatrice Eagle, NCECA Fellow (2007)

In 1987, Reitz left Wisconsin to establish a full time studio practice beside the Verde River in Arizona. University of Northern Arizona Professor Don Bendel invited Japanese potter Yukio Yamamoto to Flagstaff and together they brought the Tozan Kilns to the United States. JoAnne DeKuester wrote in a 2006 lecture that, “Yukio planted the seed. Don Bendel made the seed flourish and grow. The presence of Reitz and Leedy at the firings gave the kilns an extra prestige.”

Reitz was present and involved at the time of NCECA’s founding in 1966. He recalls conversations with Dan Rhodes, Val Cushing, Ted Randall, Bob Turner, Rudy Autio and others in which they sat around a living room floor and dreamed of an organization where people from New York could share ideas and work with those from Montana. He served as NCECA’s President from 1973-74 during which time he led the development of conferences in Flagstaff, Arizona and Madison, Wisconsin. In 1976 he was elected as a Fellow of the Council. In an inspiring closing lecture for NCECA’s 2003 conference in San Diego, California, Reitz detailed transformative experiences and expanded on philosophy about life, teaching and art. “The gift of time is the greatest one that we can give ourselves,” he proclaimed. “You have to have the passion to want to do it. The main thing is to start… Do something every day… make a pathway going towards your passion.”

For a limited time, NCECA will offer the DVD of Reitz’s 2003 closing lecture at the reduced cost of $10 members/ $15 non-members.

Here are a few highlights:


Providence Program Proposals

Providence Program Proposals

The Theme for the 49th Annual NCECA Conference in Providence is Lively Experiments (if you didn’t catch the exciting preview, check the video below).  So now, we want to know, what’s YOURS?  We all have something to say, why don’t you share it with us and your peers by submitting a proposal for next year’s conference programming!  Although it seems like a long way away, having just met in Milwaukee, but the NCECA board will be descending upon Providence in less than 8 weeks to plan next year’s conference, so we need your ideas NOW.

Program Proposals (available through THIS LINK) are due May 1st!

Now, here’s that video:

NCECA 2014: Pritzlaff meets the Material World

NCECA 2014: Pritzlaff meets the Material World

The annual conference for the National Council for Education in the Ceramic Arts descended upon Milwaukee last Tuesday and stayed through Saturday afternoon. In those few days, over 4,000 people came to the talks, demonstrations, and exhibits in the Wisconsin Center. The Milwaukee Art Museum alongside numerous galleries in the 3rd Ward hosted concurrent independent exhibitions, showing ceramic based work from local, national, and international artists. Potters, sculptors, collectors and clay enthusiast mixed and mingled. Perennial friendships were renewed and new connections were made.

If you have yet to participate in an NCECA conference, this annual celebration of clay takes place in a different city every year. While the rhythm of the programming (with staple events like the keynote speech, cup sale, student perspectives talks, emerging artists talks, etc.) remains consistent, the conference fully transforms and takes on the flavor it’s host city. It just so happened that this year I lived in that host city, Milwaukee, Wisconsin: home of beer, cheese, brats and two of my favorite ladies who know how to get things done:


Paul Sacaridiz, my former professor, mentor and friend stayed in contact with me following my graduation from UW-Madison in 2012. He knew that I enjoyed organizing exhibitions and was quite familiar with my natural inclination to knoll like objects together from the semester I shadowed him in teaching Ceramics I. Late in the fall of 2012 Paul approached me about helping with the 2014 conference. I said of course. What began as a relatively minor role in helping out evolved over the next eighteen months into something much much larger.

By the fall of 2013, I had taken on the role of Lead Coordinator of the Concurrent Independent Exhibitions for the Pritzlaff building. My job was to help in organizing and facilitating 12 exhibitions featuring 70 artists within two large ballrooms. In order to wrangle a project of this scale in tandem with my studio practice, extracurricular curitorial endeavors, and sanity, I brought 10 student interns on board from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design for spring semester. 450 of the 900 hours they would spend with me would be dedicated to bringing NCECA to Milwaukee.

My interns (who are also my heros) are:  Ariana Vaeth, Cody Powers, Audrey Jerabek, Kayle Karbowski, Alyssa Anderson, CJ O’Connell, Luke Arndt, Tony Mau, Claire Hitchcock Tilton, and Ayla Boyle. Each intern agreed to create a website, business cards and forfeit their spring break in an effort to perform good works and professionally navigate while working with NCECA.

I encourage you to check out their work. These young artists are not only dedicated, they are brilliant.

This blog post is dedicated to my interns and the unprecedented job they did helping bring NCECA to Milwaukee. The following slide shows and writings will work to illustrate the many task this group took on leading up to and following NCECA 2014.

If you would like to use any of the images contained on this post, please be sure and include photo credits in your publication. Thanks so much!



The bulk of my involvement with this project began in the fall of 2013, when Paul and I met at the Pritzlaff to create the layout of the exhibition space. We reviewed the selected proposals for space requests, thematic content and types of work that would be on view.  Over the next few weeks, we talked a great deal about the way the placement of each show would read throughout the entirety of the space. Once we settled on a preliminary map, I translated our mutual scribble maps into a legible map and sent it to the CIE leaders.

In an effort to help the CIE leaders better envision the space, my intern Alyssa Anderson and I visited the Pritzlaff a few weeks later to photograph the space. Alyssa then took the images and edited them, overlaying each photo with a graphic map. This new, more dimensionally friendly way of interpreting the space was complied into a pdf and shared with the CIE leaders.

After making a few minor adjustments, we were ready to draw up the exhibition map that would be on hand during the duration of the exhibition to help guests navigate the building.  Alyssa spent the beginning of her spring break designing, proofing and negotiating drafts with me, Paul and Josh Green. Her efforts were incredible. Not only was Alyssa reliable and fun to work with, she also has the fastest turn around I have ever seen.




Over spring break, I met with my interns and divided them into two teams: the Builders and the Flyers. The Flyers (Ariana Vaeth, CJ O’Connell, Kayle Karbowski and Alyssa Anderson) concentrated on creating a map of venues around town where information about the upcoming conference could be dropped off. After two hours of working together, they had put together one of the most through distribution maps out there.

Their next task was getting the materials to the locations. The Flyers split into groups of two and delivered the materials across the city. A race ensued, and while I have been led to believe that safe driving practices were adhered to, they completed their respective tasks (reaching over 50 locations) in roughly three hours. The next day we met back at my house to finish the restaurant and entertainment reviews we had been working on for the NCECA Visitor’s Blog. Like with the flyer, they first made a map and then set to work locating images and writing their own reviews of local bars, restaurants, coffee shops and places they felt visitors should see.

Once the reviews were finished, the group sat back in amazement at how awesome Milwaukee is. Our collective understanding of where to go, what to do and what makes this city an incredible place was truly invigorating. I sent our information along to Cindy Bracker and within a few hours all of their hard work went live.




One of our largest challenges in preparing the Pritzlaff for a large scale art exhibition was creating several free-standing walls that could support hanging artwork. The Prtizlaff’s historical building’s walls, while beautiful, are primarily made out of cream city brick and were not available to drill into or mar in anyway. I connected Paul with my intern Tony Mau, a skilled builder and former marine, in developing and overseeing the of building the temporary walls we were going to need. Together Paul and Tony came up with a plan.

The shipment of materials arrived at MIAD Wednesday morning. By Thursday afternoon the Builders (Tony Mau, Audrey Jerebek, Cody Powers and Luke Arndt) had constructed seventeen 2″x 4″ stud walls as well as cutting down lumber, patching and painting four custom pedestals.




Paul and I met all of the interns at 10am on Friday, March 14th to build out the temporary walls in the Pritzlaff. We had only 3 hours to place and secure the pre-fab stud walls,skin them up with drywall, and spackle the screw holes and seams.



With one day off, my team met back up Sunday morning to begin two days of assisting the CIE leaders and exhibiting artists in installing their work. This was one of the most anticipated days for the intern team. During their interviews each one expressed great interest in working with the NCECA artists and helping them in setting up their work. Over the course of these two days the interns forged new professional relationships with several of the artists on site. Amazing stuff.




Paul introduced everyone on the Collector’s Tour to the CIE shows at the Pritzlaff early Tuesday morning. A number of the exhibiting artists were on hand to talk about their work. It was great meeting so many incredible people who are invested in supporting the arts. It was also pretty wonderful reconnecting with all of the exhibiting artists and friends I hadn’t seen this past year.




Here is a peek at what the exhibitions looked like in their entirety:




The opening celebrations at the Pritzlaff ran late. Our plan was to make the Pritzlaff everyone’s last stop on an evening filled with gallery openings and art galore. Ben Steckel and Paul Kramer performed live music throughout the night. With hundreds of people in attendance, the energy in the building was pretty glorious. Drinks were drank. Laughter abounded. At the end of the night, Paul and I did a victory lap and soaked in the success of months of hard work.




One of things I’ve enjoyed most about being a part of NCECA over the past three years is the way the organization fosters growth for people who involve themselves in it. Each year I have become increasingly more involved, gaining experience from each conference, and this year I was able to extend this experience to my interns.

When I was asked to share my story for the 50th Anniversary interviews, I immediately asked if I could bring my interns, as their participation has been integral to the success of everything I’ve been able to contribute this year.

That morning I watched my interns sit down with Cindy Bracker and give their first recorded interviews. I think I had what I can only call a mom moment (which is weird as I have no children). While watching them record their stories I became inexpressibly proud, and felt that perhaps this internship might just give them as much as they have brought me. I sat there and watched  them speak into a camera and take another bite out of professional practices.

A consistent thread in their stories was that though they had limited experience with clay, (MIAD, where all of my interns study, doesn’t have a ceramics department) each had gained an invested interest in the community they had come to meet through working with NCECA.

My hope is that MIAD will consider what the role of clay can bring to it’s programming. Perhaps the intern interviews will help make that change possible. Clay after all is the new black.




After all of the festivities were over and the convention center, hotel rooms and rental cars returned to their previous order, we began to deinstall the exhibitions. Energies were low yet humor was high. Many of us were under slept if not a bit hungover. Hugs were plenty as were well wishes. The next NCECA conference in Providence was part of the conversational hum in the building.




I just want to send out a huge thanks to all of the CIE leaders, Paul, the board members, and my friends old and new for making this conference the best untertaking I’ve had in quite awhile. Thanks again to my amazing interns. It has been an absolute pleasure working with each of you.

I am completely amazed by all that was accomplished through the shared vision of volunteers.

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The people who make this happen every year.


Conference Content – App Feedback

Conference Content – App Feedback

NCECA is anxious to start getting conference content up online, but we need your help!  Our resources are, sadly, somewhat limited, so we must prioritize the sessions.  The best way you can tell us what you want to see online first is to use the NCECA App to provide feedback.  Within the app, for every session, you can identify that you attended and you can give it a rating of 1 to 5 stars.  The highest attended/highest rated sessions will be converted and uploaded first.  So, here’s how you do this online (utilizing the web app (available here).  It should look similar if you use the app on an idevice):

HINT Click on the first image, it will open in full screen, and then you can navigate from step to step easily.

Please feel free to also leave comments below to tell us what you thought of the conference, but the numbers we see in the app will be key for prioritizing.  Also please keep in mind, the annual conference survey will be coming out soon.