“With clay in my veins”

“With clay in my veins”

I was a guest speaker at the 48th annual NCECA Conference, held this year in Milwaukee. The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts is a dynamic and influential organization that celebrates the creative potential of clay. Almost 4,500 of its members were at the conference, nearly all of them potters.

I spoke on Dave, the Edgefield slave potter, who is the subject of my book, CAROLINA CLAY. There was a great deal of interest in the crowd for Dave, his work, and his compelling story. This was, in part, because the conference opened with a tempting mention of him: the charismatic artist and composer, Theaster Gates, began his keynote address by singing about Dave in a deep, gospel-tinged voice—

From the manufactories of South Carolina…

I was born…

With clay in my veins…

There was applause even before he finished. When I spoke with Gates later in the conference, he put his arm around my shoulder and thanked me for keeping the conversation on Dave going. I thanked him, as well.

IMG_2167_2So many of the potters who were at the four-day gathering stopped me at one time or another to talk about Dave or about Edgefield pottery or about the history of slavery in the South. One of them, David Mack from Tampa, showed me a photograph of a clay sculpture he had made of Dave. This “portrait,” as he called it, was in three pieces—the head, the body, and a fully rounded jar, which lifted out of the body. To my mind, it showed how much of himself Dave put into his work. It reminded me of a couplet that he incised on one of his pots in 1834—

oh the moon + the stars

hard work to make big Jars.

Like David Mack, the other ceramic artists I met at the conference were warm and imaginative. They were also enormously talented. This was evident from the potting demonstrations they gave and from the exhibits of their work—varied and beautiful ceramic pieces that I found quite moving. There were works on display by students and by long acknowledged masters. Some of the most breathtaking are shown below.

The executive director of NCECA, Joshua Green, captured my reaction to these pieces with a quote from the writings of the novelist, Donna Tartt: And isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty? Those first images that crack your heart wide open and you spend the rest of your life chasing, or trying to recapture, in one way or another?

Weathered Surfaces – Rhonda Willers in the Process Room

Weathered Surfaces – Rhonda Willers in the Process Room

The Process Room at Material World, NCECA’s 2014 Conference in Milwaukee consisted of 16 different artists demonstrating specific ceramic techniques/processes within 30 minutes.   In this second year of the popular conference feature, we added a camera and sound equipment so that we can provide the content online!  Below, check out a video of the popular session with Rhonda Willers on Weathered Surfaces, and click here to view and download Willer’s detailed & informative two-page handout.  

A Passion for Clay

A Passion for Clay

Cynthia Bringle makes pots…”useful things”.  She is a Lifetime member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, a Felow of the American Craft Council, an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from Memphis College of Art, and  North Carolina Living Treasure.  She was awarded the North Carolina Award for Fine Art, and was the subject of the third NCECA Spirit of Ceramics Video.  For over 50 years she has made her living as a potter, and NCECA was honored to have her share her many experiences with us at the Closing Ceremonies of our 48th Annual Meeting in Milwaukee.  From the 2014 NCECA Journal, (page 136), Cynthia writes

Clay…It gets many of us.  I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to study with and observe many clay masters who have been an influence in my life.  As a student at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, I studied with Bill Wyman, Edwin and Mary Scheier, Toshiko Takaezu, M.C. Richards and Daniel Rhodes.  In graduate school at Alfred Universaty, I had the pleasure of working with Robert Turner, as well as taking a summer workshop with Shoji Hamada….

…From the beginning, making pots for use has been my passion.  My work is in many collections, but most are in kitchen cabinets.

View the complete Closing Lecture with accompanying slides here:

Using Wax Resist for Layered Glazes – Mark Cole in the Process Room

Using Wax Resist for Layered Glazes – Mark Cole in the Process Room

The Process Room at Material World, NCECA’s 2014 Conference in Milwaukee consisted of 16 different artists demonstrating specific ceramic techniques/processes within 30 minutes.   In this second year of the popular conference feature, we added a camera and sound equipment so that we can provide the content online!  Below, check out a condensed video of the popular session with Mark Cole on using wax resist for layering glazes, and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube Channel to be the first to see all the future content going up there!

Virtual Realities, Material World: watch online!

Virtual Realities, Material World: watch online!

NCECA has just released a 40-minute video on YouTube documenting Virtual Realities, Material World, one of the most popular panel presentations from NCECA’s 2014 Conference in Milwaukee. This session included presentations by Ben Carter, Carlole Epp, Michael Kline and Adam Field. Go take a look and learn how your peers in the clay world are using social media to advance their work, connect with audiences and sustain vibrant professional networks.  Check out the presentation here, then tune in to Ben Carter’s Tales of a Red Clay Rambler podcast for the Q&A that followed!

Reclaiming Tacit Knowledge: A Portrait of Zimra Beiner

Reclaiming Tacit Knowledge: A Portrait of Zimra Beiner

Junction-Box-ComparisonThe initial and easy assessment of Zimra Beiner the person?

Mind you, “easy” means from a distance. Watching someone who is naturally engulfed in observing his world and is not particularly concerned with how the world is observing him will leave one with an impression revealing more about one’s own peccadillos than the reality of who Beiner is and what actually motivates his studio practice.

So what is really going on beneath the haphazardly rumpled shirt, the gently disconnected demeanor, and the intentional gaze?

Every maker is dancing under several category umbrellas and Beiner is no different in that regard. The largest umbrella shelters the art world proper under it. The second umbrella houses the world of design and craft. Let’s say the next umbrella is where material exists. The final umbrella is where it starts to get personal and sets of parameters specific to Beiner’s inquiry reside. Here he is busy observing and stacking up abstracted objects in search of compositions, constantly moving back and forth between things visible and invisible, micro and macro, reactions and responses, recording and reflecting, explicit and tacit, inside and outside, and questioning the boundaries defining what is complete and what is unfinished. All this mounts to answer the question, “What’s going on?” and we find what’s going on is an attempt to throw a cloak of visibility over tacit knowledge in this world through the development a visual language.

Tacit knowledge was an idea introduced to philosophy by Michael Polanyi in 1958. In a nutshell, tacit knowledge zeroes in on our ability to know more than we can tell. We could also call this knowledge our intuition or our gut feeling. Beiner enters the conversation as an individual concerned with contemporary culture’s indifference to the decline of tacit knowledge. He sees it slipping away as culture becomes more and more removed from the creation of the objects we utilize in our day-to-day lives.



While walking down the aisles of Wal-Mart, Beiner cannot accept the existence of the mass-produced objects without questioning them. He is mesmerized and asks himself where were these objects made; how did they get here; who made them? While it will unnerve anyone who is just trying to make a quick run to the store, Beiner is methodically curious about what the objects on the shelves of Wal-Mart have to say about the culture we’re living in now. Beyond the specifics of industrial, consumer objects, his fieldtrips to box stores provide additional fodder as they reveal, “strange compositional overlaps.” A pile of books lain on a pallet that’s propped up with some strange little coins. What could be seen as evidence of a basic restocking task, are to Beiner the residue of human existence.Accusation

Beiner acknowledges there is much to criticize about the culture of box stores, a point that may have been glossed over in his presentation at NCECA. It must be maddening to attempt a summation of the multi-layered baklava that is a studio-practice in ten minutes. His professed ardor for Wal-Mart lies in the specifics of the objects and the found compositions among the aisles. During our conversation he had the opportunity to clarify, “I have no desire to challenge or defend them specifically, or the way they treat their workers, or level of environmental consciousness. I’m simply curious about the box store as representing our reality.

Inspiration“While I scour through books looking for obscure sources, I’m also in awe of the things right in front of me.” He takes a note from the Designer Hella Jongerius who asserts the only way to make an impact through criticism of an entity is to be inside of it and admire it. In the same way anyone with siblings knows the terror we are able to exact on each other within a family dynamic, but woe to an outsider who dares to point a finger. “If I’m going to make sculpture that’s about the mundane and the everyday, I need to know what that is, and I need to admire it as much as I’m skeptical of it. It’s my job to go to Wal-Mart and look up to it and then to unpack it and criticize it at the same time.”

Grafitti-FoundationsFor now, Beiner’s main focus is to secure a stable relationship with a gallery, utilizing the time and resources academia provides for his research.  He feels that such a relationship is the next step toward becoming a known quantity as a maker interested in navigating the space between fine art and industrial design.  Keep an eye out for him at the Ohio Craft Museum’s upcoming “Best of Ohio 2014” exhibition, Toronto’s Gardiner Museum’s “RBC Emerging Artist People’s Choice Award” scheduled for this fall, and Beiner will be in residence at the Center for Ceramics in Berlin this summer.  Of course, you can always see his latest works online at ZimraBeiner.com.