Posted by Jeff Blandford
I first attended NCECA in Indianapolis in 2004. I was at the beginning of my ceramics studies at Michigan State University, and had only 2 years of ceramics under my belt. I had barely heard of NCECA, but I had heard it was THE place for those studying ceramics. I attended with a handful of other students that were in our Clay Club but I had no expectations beyond a memorable college trip.
When we arrived, I quickly noticed the number of pedestrians with NCECA badges. I didn’t know there were so many people who liked ceramics. It seemed I had discovered a new world of like-minded people. We all shared the same passion. We all spoke the same language. We were all friends who had never met.
I spent the next 3 days discovering just how deep my passion was, and the variety of experiences NCECA could offer one. Between lectures, galleries, and the booth area my time was up before I could fill my curiosities. I discovered more residencies, schools, and careers in ceramics than I knew existed. I could have stayed at NCECA forever, but I had a new and infinite desire to make work. We all know and understand the energy NCECA brings. Our cars arrive and our flights land, and we are hungry for clay long before the show even starts. It was and always had been the single most inspiring part of my year.
In the booth area I was immediately taken back by the demonstrations. The skill level I was able to watch was that of expensive workshops. If only for a moment, I was watching Steven Hill throw and Paul Soldner was chatting with Robin Hopper a couple of booths over. The superheros of ceramics were all there and ready to share their knowledge. This generational hierarchy of experience I found profound. Don Reitz was my professor’s professor. After hoping from gallery exhibition to gallery exhibition, there we were, all having a casual beer.
Danny Meisinger was the one demonstrator that seemed hungry for the same scaled up work I was after. Not just big works, but NICE big works. Refined. Pushing the limits of the materials, but a humble and proper attitude. It was a personal curiosity needing a fix, not a strong-man competition. As someone who enjoys teaching, I understood that large work was intimidating and one of the more common challenges to aspiring potters. It was then I realized I had to continue my large-scale ambitions. To gain experience and teach myself how to best teach others. Using leverage and your own body weight. Tools we all have.
At NCECA my own interests revolve as much around the business side of the industry as the art education. I wanted to know what materials are offered by what companies. And realistically, which are the best for ME? If I needed information on glaze decals, to specialized refractory materials, to studio equipment – it is readily available. The whole conference was like a ceramics encyclopedia. When I attend, I look to meet new people, and create new opportunities for myself. I met the founder of Empty Bowls in Houston and we are committed to working together in the future. Food giant the Kellogg Company has purchased a couple hundred of my works to give to dietitians as gifts. I would not have had that opportunity if I hadn’t learned of glaze decals and their potential at NCECA. One of the valuable lessons I learned was to absorb as much as I could while I was there. I could not imagine when it would become more relevant or useful, but I know
at some point it will.
At NCECA I saw people pushing the boundaries. It made me want to experiment on many levels. One year there was a European gentleman that said his kiln would basically go to Cone 20. I asked for what purpose would one ever need to achieve such a temperature. He said “in the medical industry. We fire ceramic parts for artificial heart valves..” I was shocked, and even a bit proud that ceramics could be an unlikely life or death material to someone. It seemed as if one would think hard enough, there could be a great reason for every adventure in clay. Even if an idea’s conception seems unreasonable at one moment in time.
Along those lines of thought, I have now “thrown” hot glass on the wheel with great success. Molten glass on my every-day pottery wheel, spinning and growing in size thanks to centrifugal force and my back yard glass studio. Without other people doing things I previously thought impossible, I would have never had the courage to attempt the “impossible.” It seems this one direction/experiment alone could keep me busy for a lifetime.
I think that is what I found so incredible about NCECA. There is so much to take in, it is perfect for us all. It is about US. Our personal desires. No matter what walk of life you come from, or how you are involved within the field of ceramics, there is something for you. It is the one time of the year where it is OK to dive into our dreams, our passions – leaving the rest at home. We can selfishly absorb any experience we wish, and take it with us on our journey through the medium. We make NCECA whatever we want it to be.
In my future, I hope to be involved in many of the exhibitions NCECA offers. I plan on applying and hopefully being one of the well publicized Emerging Artist. Knowing my future is in clay, I hope to be involved in as many ways as I can. I know NCECA will be a part of many future successes.