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:

Call for Clay Stories 2018 speakers

Call for Clay Stories 2018 speakers

Dear Clay Friends:

If you had five minutes to tell a ClayStory, what story would you tell? We want to hear you tell it live, on stage, at NCECA 2018!

For those of you who are planning on attending NCECA 2018 in Pittsburgh PA, I have some exciting news to share. We’re inviting you to join hosts Steven Branfman and James Watkins along with some outstanding clay people for an evening of storytelling around the theme of clay. The event will be 90-minutes in duration, is scheduled for Thursday, March 15, 2:15-3:45pm in rooms 301-303 of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. A dozen or so clay artists will be given a maximum of 5 minutes to tell a clay story.

The topic can be anything, so long as it is related to working with clay. Your age, gender, amount of experience with clay, etc. are irrelevant. It’s all about the story! We would like to have as diverse a lineup of storytellers as we can possibly assemble.

You can augment your story with photographs that will be displayed on the big screen while you tell your story. Your story may be funny, it may be sad, it may be poignant, it may involve the fire department, your mother-in-law, etc. etc. Seems like any time two or more potters get together, interesting things can and do happen!

Email a brief synopsis of your story to Steven at sbranfpots@aol.com with the subject line : “ClayStory Submission.” include your full name, snail mail address, and the best phone # to reach you.

Looking forward to hearing your story!

Thanks, Steven Branfman and James Watkins

Remembering Elmer Craig

Remembering Elmer Craig

It doesn’t seem fair.  It never does.  The death of a family member, friend, colleague, neighbor…no matter who it is in our lives the loss is always felt hard and deep.  So was the case with our dear friend, Elmer Craig, who passed away on August 31st in his sleep in Lexington, Kentucky just 12 days shy of his 85th birthday.  To say his passing is sad is indeed an understatement because in Elmer’s life, he embodied the essence of what it means to be a trusted friend, colleague, neighbor, husband, father, and brother.  In short, Elmer was a quality human being.

Elmer Craig in his studio at Eastern Kentucky University

Elmer Craig, originally from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, devoted his life to his family, students, colleagues, and the arts … in particular, the ceramic arts.  After earning his BA from Ball State University and then an MA from Western Michigan University, Elmer began a long teaching career that started in the high school ranks and ended at Miami Dade College North Campus in Miami, Florida where he was a Professor of Art for 27 years.  After retiring from a career in teaching, Elmer, together with his wife, Jane Seyler, a pediatrician, moved to Lexington, Kentucky where Jane continued her work at the University of Kentucky School of Medicine.  As luck would have it, for both Elmer and me, he was invited to serve as the resident ceramic artist in the Department of Art & Design at Eastern Kentucky University.  For seven years we worked together in the ceramics area, furthering our long relationship as friends and colleagues in clay.

While I had always known Elmer in south Florida as both a colleague and friend, it was this last seven years that cemented my understanding and appreciation of him not only as a person with great artistic skills, but also as a communicator.  Although upon his arrival I had already been teaching for over 25 years, my last seven years in the classroom, with Elmer at my side, taught me more than I could have ever imagined.  His daily interactions with students, his sensitivity to their needs, his willingness to extend himself beyond what is expected, his gentle nature and warm smile, always made everyone around him feel both comfortable and secure.  He never imposed himself on others and quietly worked himself into our lives in ways that allowed us all to realize he was far more than a teacher.  Elmer was not only my friend, he had become the friends of my students and colleagues.  He was respected, loved, and cherished by us all, and while his passing will be felt long into the future, the memories we all share of our association with him will live longer than the pain of experiencing his loss.

Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention Elmer’s love for ‘all things education’, which includes international travel (he was the recipient of a Fulbright teaching exchange in England and worked on projects in China and Guatemala).He also was a great devotee of expanding his knowledge through workshops and lectures, and most importantly, NCECA.  He was devoted to the NCECA family and its efforts to promote educational opportunities to young students entering the field.  To this end, I would like to make an appeal to anyone reading this who knew Elmer and loved him as we do by encouraging you to make a donation in honor of his memory to NCECA’s Fund for Artistic Development. NCECA has established this fund to support young talents and causes that were dear to Elmer’s heart including fellowships to support research beyond academia, international residencies, and special initiatives. I know for sure that Elmer would have embraced these causes, especially realizing how it further supports his love for education and our next generation of ceramic artists. Elmer’s legacy of helping others is something we all want to preserve, both in his name and through our love for someone who left an indelible impression on everyone he knew.  Elmer Craig, our dear friend and colleague in clay, will most definitely be missed but never forgotten.

Students: Your Voice, Your Chance.

Students: Your Voice, Your Chance.

Quest for Clay: The Importance of Travel, 2017 NCECA, Portland, Oregon

Even as the pressures of the semester are winding down for most students and everyone gearing up for summer activities, I want to make sure that everyone is still keeping NCECA on their minds. Now is the time for thinking about how you want to shape your future and your ideas, NCECA wants to give you the opportunity to focus these ideas and share your thoughts and energy with everyone. As a community run organization, everyone is welcome to help form our content, and students play just as vital of a role as anyone else. Not quite sure exactly what Student Interests content is? Mary Cloonan, NCECA’s Programs Director, explains it in her “Apply Yourself!” post (Read the full article here): Apply Yourself!

As a graduate student I have had a lot of life experiences, both good and bad, and feel like I have a story to tell. I was in China when I when I applied for my first NCECA lecture, as I realized how important travel and studying abroad was for my art practice and myself. Why would I not want to share my experiences and my collection of ideas if I thought it could help other, or inspire new ideas?

This is the best opportunity for students to share themselves in a meaningful way, and all too often students don’t take advantage of this wonderful chance. Do you have a project, collaboration, or just an experience you want to share? Who better to tell the stories you want to hear at NCECA than you? The application deadline for Student Perspective program proposals is September 6th, 2017 for the 52nd Annual Conference CrossCurrents: Clay and Culture in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Link to application:) Student Interests Programming Proposals.
Mark your calendars and I hope to hear your story in Pittsburgh.

-If you have any questions or concerns you can email either NCECA Student Director at Large, Naomi Clements or Myself: ncecasdal@gmail.com
-Brandon Schnur
Graduate Student, West Virginia University
Student Director at Large 2017- 2019

Quest for Clay: The Importance of Travel, 2017 NCECA, Portland, Oregon

Keep on Keepin’ On….

Keep on Keepin’ On….

I thought about titling this post “Marvelous Marge” or “Marge the Magnificent”…..both absolutely fitting descriptive titles.  But then I thought “Marge in Charge,” since she announced last year during her closing lecture that she has been “in charge since I was 5″, I’m sorry, I don’t work well in a group, I just always end up in charge”.  (that’s paraphrased). Basically there were a ton of titles I could have picked, but then I thought to myself.  WWMD?  (What would Marge do?) and of course, there was only one choice for the title.  Last year, Marge’s closing lecture was, I think, the presentation that I personally was most looking forward to.  You see, in our great collective family of clay, we often refer trace our lineage by teacher as we would our family through our parents and grandparents.  My teacher was Larry Brow at the Lawrence Arts Center, his teacher was Bunny McBride at the University of Iowa, which makes Bunny my clay grandfather.  And Keith Williams was at school there at the same time, so he’s my uncle, and so on… (it’s actually a fun NCECA game to play, much like 7 degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon). But I digress.  Back to Marge….She taught ceramics at Purdue Univeristy with my real life ACTUAL father, so in a way, she’s like “Aunt Marge” to me (though I wasn’t actually BORN when she and dad taught together).  And of course, she’s that super cool aunt who does all the things you want to do and who you just want to grow up and be half as amazing as she is.  It’s no secret, obviously, that I think the world of Marge, and yes, I DO often think to myself “WWMD”.  So why did I wait nearly a year before posting her closing lecture?  Let me explain….

I’m releasing this video now, shortly before we all meet in Portland in much the same way a television show which has been on its long annual break will give you a “last season on….” before the first episode of the new season.  So enjoy reflecting on the magic of Kansas City with Magical Marge’s words of wisdom from the closing of our last conference, and then prepare for Portland and making more memories.

And really people, haven’t you ever heard of saving the best for last?  Thank you Marge, for an amazing closing to our 50th conference.


Spotlight: Brett Binford

Spotlight: Brett Binford

Where do you currently live/work? 

I reside in Portland, Oregon and am the co-founder/ co-owner Mudshark Studios, Eutectic Gallery, Portland Growler Company, Kept Goods, and The Clay Compound

What do you like most about your job? OR  What do you like most about where you live?

mudshark-groupI wear many different hats: At Mudshark, I love that we are continually solving problems and trying new things. with every email or phone call, we never know what new project or challenge we will be presented with.

Running Eutectic gallery is satisfying in a different way; by giving ceramic artists a platform to show work and having a place for our community to come together is very fulfilling and humbling. Selecting works and preparing each exhibition is also a creative outlet for me.

img_3495My primary function for the Portland Growler company is overseeing marketing. i enjoy the collaborative efforts as well as realizing an object all over the world. Getting my photo taken with Japanese tourists visiting the studio is an additional perk.

Kept goods is a newer venture, so the most exciting part is the design process. i enjoy the ideation and collaborative design process. Managing the compound is interesting as it is layered with community studio philosophy but also drawing from things i have learned from growing Mudshark from a 2 person company to a 30+ person company. while they are both two very different things; one is a community studio rental facility and the other is a production studio, there are many elements that overlap allowing me se the value in building more community in Mudshark and to building more structure in the Clay compound.

Portland is home to an amazing creative and entrepreneurial community.

Where did you grow up? 

cranberry-bogi was born and raised on Cape Cod Massachusetts. More specifically a  small town called Marstons Mills which is central inland. my neighborhood was surrounded by cranberry bogs and one of my fondest memories is the fall time when they flood the bogs to harvest the cranberries and they are all floating on the surface, coupled by the leaves changing color, it is quite a sight to see!

What was your childhood nickname? 

i had a couple: Beanpole- i was raised a vegetarian and was tall and skinny…

the other was Binnie, short for Binford, i suppose.

How did you first find out about NCECA?

my highschool teacher, but the first time i went was Kansas City 2002 while working for Jonathan Kaplan at the Ceramic Design Group.

Tell me a story about your first conference

Chris lyon and Julie Anderson and i went to get sushi and it was Chris’s first time getting sushi. he thought the wasabi was avocado and ate the whole pile in one bite. we have been best friends since and have been business partners for over a decade.

What’s your favorite color? 

Depends on my mood and context. I am actually colorblind, so i love brighter colors like Orange because i can actually see and identify them with confidence.

What or who inspired you to get involved more deeply in the organization, and what was your “entry point” to the board.:

brett-dylan-paulMy entry point has been working with Dylan Beck as Onsite Liaisons. i had no idea that it would go so much deeper than just planning local logistics. in our two board meetings we have been part of deep discussions about the direction of our field, strategic planning to keep NCECA evovling with its membership’s needs and planning beyond just Portland.

Describe your position with NCECA: 

i am an onsite liasion. i have been responsible for locating venues, working to place juried shows at venues. we are currently wraping up the collector tour routes and moving onto coordinating the shuttle routes. i am looking forward to installing “The Evocotive Garden” curated by Gail Brown.

What’s your favorite thing about being on the board? 

being surrounded by such passionate people is amazing. being surrounded by such intelligent people is intimidating.

What’s your favorite part of your specific position? 

most recently, i feel honored to be able to identify and make nominations for the Regional Excellence Award.

Who are some of your mentors, and how have they shaped you as a person/artist? (both in and out of the organization/field)

img_3494Francis Johnson: my high school ceramics teacher that stood by me while i was a troubled youth. not only did she always give me respect, she gave me the benefit of the doubt when others didn’t; she saw through my adolescence and saw that i was a kind individual deserving of opportunity. She is the reason i didnt drop out of school and went to college. one day she leaned over me while i was throwing a pot and said, “did you know you can make a career out of this?” i was dumbfounded… she pushed me to apply for college, told me all about Afred, “if you’re going to go, this is the place” and she helped me photograph all my works, complete my application and reviewed my essay. Without Francis, i would probably be a drug addict on the side of the road still on Cape Cod.

Jonathan Kaplan: After leaving Alfred, i was seeking a more pragmaitc approach to making a living in the ceramic arts, other than being a production potter or a teacher. i was struggling with technical knowledge of the material among other things. Jonathan not only exposed me to Molds, RAM pressing, Jiggering, etc, but he really took me under his wing to show me how to trouble shoot problems. this gave me the confidence in my own artwork to dream bigger and without bounds. it also showed me that there was an untapped market out there: private label manufacturing. Jonathan is the reason Chris Lyon and i started Mudshark Studios. we loved working for him on all the different projects and wanted to  forge a path for ourselves just like what he had done.

brett-and-thomasThomas Orr: After my time in Colorado with Jonathan and some time away from the studio, i became convinced that going back to school to finish my BFA was important; i felt that having “that piece of paper”meant something and would open doors for me. i moved to Portland to attend  Oregon College of Arts and Crafts (OCAC). Although Thomas was my advisor, we hadnt actually talked once in the first two months until i had my advisory meeting with him. in the first 5 minutes of our 30 minute meeting, we covered what classes i should take to fulfill my credit needs the next semester.  Thomas then slid the paperwork aside, looked at his watch and noted that we had 25 minutes to kill. he proceeded to ask me what i had been running from all this time and why i carried so much guilt around. i proceeded to cry, told him of my adolescence, he told me of his, we cried together, and then he said the most poignant thing, ” Brett, i hope this isn’t my ego speaking, but i think you came to Portland because you and i needed to meet, but i don’t think we need this construct (school) to have the relationship that we will bear together. You don’t need school to do what you want to do(Mudshark), you just need to start your path.”

Tbinfordceramicsreviewhomas gave me the confidence to follow my dreams;  I dropped out of school the following semester and started Mudshark. Thomas and i have remained close for over a decade now, and i continue to look to his sage wisdom for how to live life, share my strengths and weaknesses with others and to “operate from the right place”.

Tell me about your work as an artist.

My personal work is about me. It is a reflection of things I have endured, things I have enjoyed, people I have loved, people I have lost, and as I look back on works I find it to be quite autobiographical in more layers that I could have initially intended.

What’s your favorite ice cream flavor? 

the cold ones.

brett-celadon-openingIf you were a glaze, which one would you be and why? 

well, as i look out my office door into a gallery full of Celadon, I would say Celadon! where I’m deeper, I am darker, on the surface I am shiny and light. And I am transparent about what I am.

that said, I think I could be any glaze and find meaning in it.

What are a few of your hobbies?

Hobbies, what hobbies?! I work nearly 80 hours a week on all these ventures in clay. and when I have “free time” I generally think about clay, community, designs, or conceptual ideas that I dont have time to begin to complete.  my work is clay, my passion is clay, my life is clay, and I think my hobby is clay.  oh, I do love eating in bed and watching movies, but I dont think that counts as a hobby.