Emerging Artist Adam Chau

Emerging Artist Adam Chau

Adam Chau – Essay about influence and idea development

 “My clay journey started early – my family opperated a bakery when I was growing up and I learned commercial-level baking at a very young age; it was shortly after that I discovered that ceramics was parallel with baking and was an easy transition into a creative artform. Because of this introduction to seriality from a commercial standpoint I was most comfortable (and interested) in making multiples. My influences reflected as such in song-dynasty production, Ko-Sometsuke wares, tile factories, and global designers. Design plays a huge role in how I opperate and I am always inspired by it because it gathers craft, global dialog, and visual communication all together – I try to be on top of contemporary design trends and movements. On a more fined-tuned level I am looking at artists that use text in their work as I am incorporating language and communication in with my ceramics; artists like Sophie Calle and Tracy Emin are influences to me.

Jim Termeer was my thesis mentor in graduate school and instilled in me a studio practice that is always growing – objects that I make are adjustments from the previous batch. This way of iterative making keeps me moving and is a pursuit of a communicating a clear vision. Blake Williams has also been a mentor of mine; since she’s seen my work grow she has a clear understanding of the messages I try to convey and always brings me back to the foundation of my practice.

Since my background is in design I iterate a concept before I execute something – the large part of my time is actually mapping out an idea and concept without touching clay. It took months to arrive at the final version of my iPhone series because every single detail had a reason for the way it looked and how you interacted with it – it was all preplanned. I am always thinking of how other people will interpret my work; because of this I am constantly looking at other artists and designers to see how their message is coming across. I know a work is done when it conveys a message conceptually and aesthetically. I hope that design is taken into ceramic curriculums – it is only growing stronger in other commercial industries. I’d love to see emerging artists in the future adopt both technology and design issues to be a part of the global conversation.”















The Artist Behind “Unity Shards”: Laura Jean McLaughlin

The Artist Behind “Unity Shards”: Laura Jean McLaughlin

“Wise Swan” teapot by Laura Jean McLaughlin

Not being a Pittsburgh native myself, I was unaware of the event called “Unblurred” that happens on Penn Ave. in the Garfield neighborhood on the first Friday night of every month. It is an evening where every gallery, shop, and studio opens their doors to the community to come and enjoy taking a leisurely stroll in and out of each building, appreciating the art, buying a piece or two, or picking up something you simply can’t find anywhere else. It was this night of camaraderie that I found myself visiting Laura Jean McLaughlin in her own studio at 5111 Pen Ave.

Arriving around 6:30 PM meant that things weren’t in full swing yet, but I was able to chat with Laura Jean and browse her collection of art. Laura has her own signature and style, as every artist typically does, but the thing that stuck out the most to me was how you could go past the same painting or sculpture 10 times and each time see something different. There are so many elements to her masterpieces that all combine to create a work unlike anything the viewer has seen before. I must have circled her studio a dozen times soaking it all in!


Laura Jean McLaughlin

As I’ve learned more and more about Laura, it became clear that her work is known not only within the Pittsburgh community but around the world. Her ceramic work has been featured in numerous periodicals including Germany’s Neue Karamik, Korean Ceramic Art Monthly, American Craft Magazine, and Poetic Expressions of Mortality. She has pieces exhibited in over 100 galleries and museums across the nation such as the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, the Ohio Craft Museum, and Delf Norona Museum in West Virginia, and other works can be found in Texas, Maryland and Alabama. Through her own studio in Pittsburgh, her multiple residencies, and several awarded grants, Laura has been making her mark on the art world for over two decades and expresses no intention of slowing down now. Her collaborative mosaic mural, Unity Shards, being featured at the 2018 NCECA conference, is a small part of the depth that is the artist, Laura Jean McLaughlin. Find out more about Laura and her work here.

“Willow” by Laura Jean McLaughlin

Connecting with Laura Jean over the past few weeks in her Garfield studio has further deepened my insight into how committed she is to making community part of creation. Laura encourages an atmosphere of togetherness within her studio, offering food, drinks, and laughs. She even houses several pieces from fellow artists, allowing them to display their work in her space. I began to also learn more about her many collaborative mosaic projects, how they involve schools or community groups to create. Using her talent, she has managed to bring people from all walks of life together to create beautiful, lasting works that inspire and brighten the world, one place at a time.

After exploring Laura’s studio, I stepped back out onto the sidewalk and strolled up and down the avenue. All the storefronts showed a buzz of activity within, from gallery observers to a small percussion band performing, to workshop spaces that were open for public participation. Every person I came across was kind and smiling, and the sense of friendship through art was apparent everywhere I went. Everyone seemed to either know one another or want to welcome newcomers with open arms. It was a beautiful evening in so many ways.

Another first Friday Unblurred event is happening this evening, March 2 on Penn Avenue. Ceramic art will be featured not only at the Clay Penn, but in Sharif Bey’s “dialogues in CLAY+GLASS” at Pittsburgh Glass Center, in the group exhibition Exposure and Stephanie Kantor’s “Not Yet But Soon” opening at Bunker Projects, where “Ceramicidal Tendencies” will also be on view at the time of the conference. Other nearby venues include Tim Roda’s Strictly Functional: Ceramic Vessel as Camera at Silver Eye Center for Photography.

The vibrant art community of Garfield is this kind of place that exudes senses of belonging that reflect the goals of Laura Jean’s Unity Shards project taking place at the 52nd annual NCECA conference, CrossCurrents: Clay and Culture. Laura’s community creation interactions on “Unity Shards” begins in Projects Space with a public reception on Tuesday evening March 13, and continue March-14-16, 2018. Laura’s project offers an opportunity to participate in a week of unity at a time when the world faces such division. Laura Jean’s collaborative mosaic work in Projects Space occupies a central spot at the NCECA conference and is open to the public, even those not registered for the conference. To find out more information or how you, too, can play a role in the mosaic’s creation, please visit our post, “Unity Shards: A Collaborative Mosaic.”

A Conversation with Jessica Brandl, 2017 NCECA Emerging Artist

A Conversation with Jessica Brandl, 2017 NCECA Emerging Artist

Jessica Brandl, one NCECA’s 2017 Emerging Artists has had a busy time since delivering an outstanding presentation on the final day of the conference in Portland, Oregon. Over the summer, she relocated from Philadelphia, where she had been teaching at the Tyler School or Art at Temple University, to Canada, where she is presently teaching at the Alberta College of Art and Design. In October, her work, Humunculus, was honored as the 1st place vessel award in the Zanesville Prize Exhibition. About the impact of NCECA’s Emerging Artist recognition on her life and work, Jessica shared the following:

Jessica Brandl at work

Since emerging at this year’s NCECA Conference, I feel a great relief, a quiet internalization of having addressed my peer group and presented my story. As a direct result of this public presentation I have been invited to demonstrate and speak at numerous schools and community art centers, and the added visibility has encouraged greater support and connoisseurship of both my work and research. The formal recognition by the NCECA board and committee provides value to my academic and studio endeavors, and the opportunity to present supported my assertion that I am a devoted member of the NCECA community willing to work and contribute to the creative grow of ceramic art and research to come.  However, the most important impact of this award came to me as an unexpected private transformation. In preparation for the presentation and show, I found myself looking deep within, searching for the most accurate way to describe what I do. I found the clarity and focus I needed through my feelings for ceramics and personal history rather than objects and practice alone. By retracing my own journey in clay, I was confronted with my strengths and weaknesses and realized that I had to speak candidly about this history in order to be most accurate about where my work comes from. Accepting vulnerability and having the fortitude to express this has been the most profound impact of having been an NCECA emerging artist. Thank you for allowing this public platform, and thank you for listening.

Jessica Brandl, Vessel B

Limited to 12-minutes at the conference, Brandl was kind enough to respond to some questions I recently posed to her via email correspondence. Her generosity of time and thoughtful response offer an opportunity to dig deeper into some of the decisions and motivations Brandl is exploring through her creative practice.


 JG: Why do you find the vessel such a compelling framework for sharing your stories?

JB: I admire the vessel as a visual framework in all of its historical iterations, but the most potent attraction to this context has to do with my personal history and how it satisfies my sense of balance. The vessel is a fascinating object, the void interior defines the exterior, it can physically contain something but it can also hold images and subsequently display ideas and narrative as symbolic language. A vessel is a container, but its interpretation permits a multifaceted understanding of utility as literal, metaphor or both.

Jessica Brandl, Vessel C

My attraction is grounded in the overt utility that a vessel suggests; it permits a connection to my Midwestern upbringing that established the premise that an object should be useful. It was the identification with labor and its value, which gave craft and craftsmanship high praise in my childhood home. What I now identify as high art, was viewed with suspicion in its seemly functionlessness and reference to decadence and collected wealth. The logic of childhood was flawed; however, my desire to mediate past and present perceptions through an object locates me at the contextual humility of vessels and pots.

Jessica Brandl, Ruin A

The narrative vessels I construct are beyond practical utility in most ways but my adherence to the void interior and vestigial function permits me to use the language. The linguistic ties are as important as the literal context and form. While many viewers understand what a vessel is, the appearance of novel content situated within the context of a familiar utilitarian form can be a disruptive experience. By calling what I make a vessel, I have framed the comparative conversation. Vessels and pottery preserve a formal levity, which permits me to address culturally averse subject matter.

Jessica Brandl, plate with birds


JG: Could you share a little about how you see your work connected to that of other artists working with narrative content within and beyond those working in clay? Who and what are you looking at and gaining inspiration through?

JB: I see my work as another iteration of a long and continuous human tradition of narration and communication. The telling of an epic or in my case an un-epic, with a cast of characters conveying something other and universal seems to be a part of human nature.  Artists that work with clay and clay-like materials speak the most directly to me. I examine how they have managed to communicate and what those technical strategies are; lastly, I like to ask why they are clay and not something else.

Jessica Brandl, Ruin B

I have always been fascinated by the raw clay bison formed on the floor of a cave in France some 14,000 years ago, those figures exist right alongside representative drawings of animals, abstracted dots, and incised geometric patterns. An important part of my personal narrative investigates why I insist on clay. Looking at other humans that use clay I am able to gain a better perspective through comparison.

Jessica Brandl, Vessel A

Therefore, I am inspired by human experience, specifically as it is represented in mythology, literature, science, history, ecology, phycology and culture. I compress the visual richness of the centuries into my own ceramic vessels, forming a distillation of historic and personal symbolic language.  Any visual or narrative similarities that my work possesses are the result of communal proximity informing my conscious and unconscious decisions. I do not worry as much as I once did about copying or nuance, I have a better understanding of myself as a unique person from a specific time and culture.  Themes, material, and methodology are the stuff of generating narrative and symbolic language. Each individual is different, but as members of the same species quite similar; circumstances and luck take care of the rest.

Jessica Brandl, Fintch


The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Art is immensely grateful to the Windgate Charitable Foundation for their support of NCECA’s Emerging Artists program from 2013-2017. Additional blog entries will appear on other 2017 recipients of the award before our 2018 cohort will be announced in the month leading up to the conference in Pittsburgh. 


Below, watch the video of Brandl’s 2017 conference presentation at the Emerging Artists Session on Saturday morning in Portland:

Green Task Force Conference Recap + Interview with Amy Joy Hosterman

Green Task Force Conference Recap + Interview with Amy Joy Hosterman

Written by Harry Levenstein – IG:@harrison_lev

The smell of sustainability was in the air this year at NCECA Portland! With topical discussions on ceramics and climate change, reducing our carbon footprint as makers, renewable energy options in our studios, and even firing kilns with repurposed vegetable oil! At the Green Task Force booth, Robert Harrison signed copies of his “book that every studio should have,” Sustainable Ceramics. University of Oregon had their ram press operating at full throttle, giving hands-on demos of their project of repurposing clay and glaze slop to make functional paver bricks. I even attended a few shows around the city with their themes set on environmental awareness. It seems that many makers are keeping sustain on the brain and that is exactly what we like to see.

A highlight of the conference for me, was making the acquaintance of a sustainably driven artist who runs a near-wilderness artist residency on the UP (Upper Peninsula) of Michigan.

Yes, you heard me correctly… An artist residency. Near the wilderness. Focusing on sustainability. Epic.

Amy Joy Hosterman, a ceramic sculptor from Minnesota, approached me in the NCECA Resource Hall with an “I get stuff done” kind of look in her eye. She proceeded to enlighten me about the Visitor Center Artist Camp in Ewen, MI, the near-wilderness residency which she and her colleagues have been building over the last decade. Amy is a Co-Founder, currently serves as Co-Director, and teaches local-clay workshops at the compound.

Stoked about their project and philosophies, we interviewed Amy to find out some more.

It’s about working together, being resourceful, and developing an art making practice that’s as do-it-yourself and low-impact as possible.

Q: How do you define sustainability?

Amy: A practice that is sustainable is one that is flexible, and adaptable to evolving environments and situations. Sustainability is not an absolute term, when looked at practically. Something is only sustainable as long as the energy exists to power it, so the infinite expansion of an industry based on nonrenewable-resources is never sustainable. Sustainability is about adapting our practices to our changing environments, repurposing waste-materials, and using what is available locally.

Q: Would you tell us a little bit about your current project?

Amy: This has been a longterm project of myself, Margaret Coleman, and Joshua Hosterman, in addition to many other artists, craftspeople, and local residents. It’s been an evolution throughout the last ten years, so I’d like to tell you the story of how it has grown into itself.

It began with the opportunity to reclaim an old Forestry Service A-frame cabin that was going to be demolished. A handful of artists gathered in the Upper Peninsula, disassembled it, and moved the pieces to our site in Ewen. The next year we had around a dozen artists there to rebuild the A-frame, creating our first structure for what we decided should be a place for artists to camp, work together, and make art in the wilderness.

Repurposed A-frame and barn studio space.

As our artist camp developed, we partnered with a local barn-builder, Mel Seeger, an amazingly talented craftsperson and retired logger. Mel built an amazing barn for us at the Visitor Center, with wood he milled himself. This is our indoor studio workspace, and it was the key piece we needed to begin to host artists for residencies and workshops.

Q: How about your residency and workshops?

Amy: We host artists each summer for a Sustainable Practices Symposium. This includes workshops in digging, sculpting, and firing the local clay, casting recycled aluminum with molds made of locally-sourced sand and environmentally-friendly binders, as well as woodworking and building using reclaimed and locally-sourced materials. It’s about working together, being resourceful, and developing an art making practice that’s as do-it-yourself and low-impact as possible.

Our clay workshops started out in 2014 by building worktables, framing pieces of window screen for sieving slip, and wrapping boards with canvas for work surfaces. We crush and slake the clay, mix the slip in buckets with a paint-mixer from the hardware store, and use homemade plaster bats for stiffening it. We have treadle wheels for wheel-throwing, and hand-building tools collected from the kitchen sections at thrift stores.


Q: In terms of art making, what facilities and equipment do you have to offer?

Amy: We have our studio workspace in the barn, all the clay you can dig/process, buckets, screens, mixers, etc, for clay slip processing, two treadle potter’s wheels, plaster clay-drying bats, a large work table and canvas-covered boards for hand-building, barrels and pits for primitive-style firings, portable propane-fueled kiln for low-fire glaze and raku firing and all the necessary safety gear, various basic throwing and sculpting tools, and some low-fire glazes. During our Session One Building Workshop, we will be constructing a new drying shelter for storing and processing all our clay, drying our work, and for firing the portable raku kiln in inclement weather. We have also acquired the University of Minnesota “baby kiln,” a 13cu ft outdoor hard brick raku kiln, and are currently fundraising for propane burners and kiln furniture.

Q: What is important about what you are doing?

Amy: Hands-on experience is very valuable for anyone interested in learning more about any process. The science of the ceramics process can be far removed from the artist’s work, if one chooses to only use commercially formulated clay and glazes. I believe that it is very important to keep this knowledge of the process alive. So many things now are done for us. They’re mechanized and produced in such a way that is so far from handcraft, that the process is abstracted for most people. It is also a very different thing to read about or study something, than it is to do it yourself, with your own hands. There is no substitute for the experience of problem-solving your own specific situation. Personally observing the transformation of natural materials as they react to physical and chemical manipulations greatly enhances one’s understanding of the ceramics medium, as well as of our environment’s natural systems. First-hand education brings empowerment, and inspires further investigation.

Q: When should we apply for the residencies/workshops?

Amy: We have extended our deadline for applications for this summer’s VCAC residencies, so applications are now being accepted through June 25th.

Hot Raku kiln at night.

VCAC has been created by artists, for artists with a strong dedication and investment in environmentally-concious processes and community-building. “Many other local residents have helped us a great deal as well. Whether it was lending their tractor or forklift, donating materials or funds, participating in our public events, or sharing their expertise, the local community around Ewen, Michigan has played a big role in our ability to make the Visitor Center Artist Camp a reality.”

Personally, two of my favorite things in life are being in the wilderness, and making things with clay. It seems as though VCAC provides the opportunity for a holistic synthesis of both all the while being surrounded by like-minded and inspired company.

Head over to www.visitorcenterartistcamp.org to learn more about pricing, logistics, and financial aid opportunities for applicants. The deadline is June 25th , so go there today!

And finally, I’d like to thank Amy for the time she took to thoughtfully answer our questions, and for the admirable work she and her colleagues are doing with this project. Cheers, Amy!

Harry Levenstein

IG: @harrison_lev

Eat and Drink around the Oregon Convention Center

Eat and Drink around the Oregon Convention Center

Welcome to Portland! As the top “food city” in America according to the Washington Post, you can eat quite well here, even on a very modest budget. Even during the conference day, you have multiple options for local, quality food and drink. Given the thousands of restaurants, cafes, food carts and pubs in the city, though, we’re going to limit our recommendations to places within a quick walk of the Oregon Convention Center (OCC). For recommendations outside that area, please see Resources below.

Eating In the Convention Center

The OCC now has multiple food and coffee options inside the convention center itself, so if you really don’t want to experience Oregon rain, you never have to exit the show. Menus and hours are detailed on the OCC website; note that the hours of each restaurant vary by day based on expected show traffic. While these eateries are slightly less economical or interesting than options outside the convention center, they keep their prices modest. None of them are open past 4pm.

Your first stop inside the OCC is likely to be one of the two Portland Roasting coffee bars. As well as serving locally roasted coffee and espresso drinks, both locations offer pastries in the morning and shrink-wrapped sandwiches at lunch. Similar take-out lunch options are available from The Orbit Room. Want a hot, sit-down lunch? Try The Dragon Boat Grill or Cucina Rosso … but go early, since there will be thousands of other potters looking for lunch. On Thursday and Friday, the pan-Asian Stir Bistro will also be open for lunch.

Food Near The Convention Center

If the lunch lines are too long inside the OCC, or you simply want more local, interesting fare, grab your umbrella and head outside. While still sparsely occupied, there are a lot more places to eat near the OCC than there were a few years ago.

You don’t have to eat the “continental” breakfast at your hotel. There are several options you can stop by for a quick pastry, or a full breakfast, on your way to NCECA in the morning. J Cafe, located on the walk from the DoubleTree Hotel, has excellent espresso and tasty breakfast and lunch panini. Citizen Baker, across the street from the OCC, serves pastry, sandwiches and coffee all day long. And while My Father’s Place, South of the OCC, is known as a dive bar, they also serve diner-style eggy breakfasts every morning.

For lunch, why not Burgerville? Yes, it’s undeniably fast food, but it’s fast food with a gourmet twist: salads with Oregon blue cheese, Tillamook cheddar cheeseburgers, wild-caught halibut sandwiches, and best of all, milkshakes with local, seasonal ingredients (currently chocolate-hazelnut). If you want something a bit more healthful, try Table 6, a local vegetarian-friendly cafe. Since Table 6 is popular with the local office workers, it can pay to order ahead on their website.


Let’s face it, if Portland is known for anything, it’s beer. With more than 80 breweries in the city (not counting elsewhere in Oregon), you can drink local beer on tap with every meal and never the same one twice. Because of local and state law, most beer halls also serve food, although it can vary from perfunctory to gourmet; check reviews to be sure.

While most of the drinking establishments you’ll frequent will be downtown or elsewhere, there are a few options close by the OCC. The Altabira City Tavern is the restaurant and beer bar in the newly-opened Hotel Eastlund. Go there for a snazzy (but spendy) small-plates lunch or dinner, as well as any of 16 local beers on tap. If the Altabira is too crowded or too rich for your tastes, the Spirit of 77 sports bar has both local sports and 11 rotating taps (the food is not recommended).

Oregon is also known for wine, particularly pinot noir. Sadly, though, there isn’t a good place for wine within a quick walk of the convention center.  Try The Portland Wine Bar and Wine Tasting Room downtown.

A Little Further Away

If you have a bit more time to find breakfast, lunch, or dinner, the Broadway district is only about 20 minutes walk from the OCC. There you’ll find popular places like Milo’s City Cafe, Frank’s Noodle House, Cadillac Cafe, and a vegan bar and grill called Black Water. You’ll find that Portland is very accommodating to special diets; whether you’re vegan, gluten-free, halal or something else, there is a restaurant for you — probably more than one!

Downtown and the Pearl District are only a 10-minute MAX ride away from the OCC, making them an option for lunch as well as evening activities. If you want to eat like a real Portlander, head over to the 9th and Alder Food Carts, where inexpensive takeout food from 30 different countries is available. If it’s raining, the Pine Street Market offers food-cart-type foods but with a roof overhead. There are also numerous standard restaurants. For a treat, try the Portland City Grill for a skyscraper view of the city, and don’t miss Cupcake Jones in the Pearl for a little something sweet.

East Burnside is directly South of the OCC, and has many of Portland’s new and hot restaurants and bars, such as Katchka, Screen Door, and Le Pigeon. North is the North Mississippi and Alberta neighborhoods, including many affordable local restaurants like Eat, Petite Provence, Bunk Sandwiches and Pine State Biscuits.

Attendees from small cities or rural areas should keep in mind that Portland is a city, and as such popular restaurants will fill up, even on a weeknight. Reservations are strongly recommended, especially for parties of more than four. Note that some popular eateries don’t take reservations, and some are cash-only. For example, if you plan to go to Pok Pok, go very early (5pm) or be ready to wait for an hour or more. Also, parking downtown is limited and requires payment before 7pm. Tips are expected.

Enjoy your time in Portland, and eat well!


Student Critiques – Sign Up Now!

Student Critiques – Sign Up Now!

Student Crit Room

Click the image above to sign-up now!

I hope you are just as excited as I am about this year’s conference in Portland! I’m not sure what I’m looking forward to most – the great conference programing, all the amazing exhibitions, seeing old friends, or the chance to visit Portland itself!

I am however, especially excited about the opportunity for students to critique with professional artists and educators from around the country.  The Student Critique Room gives students at all levels an opportunity to discuss images of their work, gain a new perspective, and prepare for graduate school, job applications, gallery representation and more.

Student Critiques will be held Thursday March 23, & Friday March 24, 9:00 am – 4:30 pm in room in room C124 (Level 1) of the Portland Conference Center. Critiques will be 25 minutes long, with a 5-minute break between each session.

The sign-up form is now live and can be found HERE. Sign-up is on a first come/first served basis, so we encourage you to sign up now! This year we are also introducing drop-in slots, which will be available on a first come, first served basis each day.

IMG_7387-this one-blog-smallPlease come to the conference with your images already prepared and saved to a flash drive.  All critiques will be of digital images; please do not bring actual artwork. Laptops will be provided, but NCECA does not provide Internet access in the Student Critique Room.

If you have any questions about the Student Critique Room, please contact: naominceca@gmail.com.

NCECA Student Directors-at-Large

Naomi Clement, naominceca@gmail.com
Shalya Marsh, shalyamarshnceca@gmail.com