We arrived home Monday after a redeye flight from Seattle, bleary-eyed and not at all sure which time zone we currently inhabit. I believe I am at this very moment somewhere over Red Lodge, Montana. I think. I'm certainly not on Cape Cod, timewise at least, judging by the way I feel.
In any case, we spent 10 days in the Seattle area (that's what they call it on JetBlue ... as in, the plane is descending and the flight attendant announces, "Welcome to the Seattle area." What, you don't know where the airplane is actually going to come down? Could be Bellingham, could be Bainbridge Island?) OK, sorry about that.
Back to the reason for this post. We were visiting our son Marcus and his wife Anastasia, but my pottery business there in the city was the NCECA conference. I'll concentrate here on NCECA. I know some people wouldn't miss the annual event, but this was a first for me. Given it's Northwest location this year, it was difficult to resist combining the conference with a family visit.
And so, on Wednesday morning I was dropped off at the huge Washington State Conference Center and joined several thousand other potters, sculptors, stars, groupies, arts administrators, teachers, students, alumni, hangers-on, activists, wannabe clay people, whoever had a stake of any kind in the clay world and the money to get to and stay in Seattle.
So, some conclusions about NCECA, keeping in mind that I'm new at this thing:
- It's enormous. At any one time during the Thursday-Saturday part of the event, an attendee had the choice of attending four or five lectures, demonstrations, panel discussions. And the lectures changed every half-hour to 90 minutes. All day. There were also galleries of work to be seen; a marvelous show of Chinese sculpture and several galleries from around the country representing their own makers with pots and sculpture for sale.
- There were literally dozens of venues around Seattle with high-quality shows of pottery, from the Fuel Coffee shop on Capitol Hill where two of my teabowls were part of a small show sponsored by Watershed in Maine, to the two POTS Galleries in the Fremont neighborhood where there were dozens of cups, a lovely small Gail Nichols soda-fired show and literally hundreds of wood-fired pots from anagamas in the Northwest.
- More spotty quality-wise but equally interesting was the annual sale of donated cups. The tables in that room filled day by day as people dropped off their donations. The cups covered the gamut of maker talent, method and experience - from a couple of lovely Jack Troy wood-fired teabowls at $175 to kind of ... ummmm ... funky mugs made by enthusiastic beginners and priced around $15. And there were many, many pots in between. I think the sale Friday raised more than $20,000 for NCECA's scholarship program. Well worth doing. Somewhere in this country are three of my shino teabowls. If you bought one, let me know, I'd love to hear where the pots are living now.
- The best programs I went to? An hour in a small room at the end of one day with two women from the Leach Pottery program in St. Ives, Cornwall. We explored, as much as time permitted, the uses of Mingei today. For the first time at NCECA (for me), we talked with each other rather than simply listen to a lecture.
Related to that hour was 90 minutes of hearing how the potters of Mashiko, Japan, are rebuilding after horrific earthquake devastation a year ago. Ayumi Horie, a New York State potter, talked about organizing the international effort to auction pottery and raise money for rebuilding immediately after the quake. John Baymore, a New Hampshire potter with many friends in Mashiko, talked about being on the scene after the quake. Lynn Zetzman, who formerly taught in Japan, talked about the struggle of one particular young Mashiko potter. All the talk was backed up by very good projected photography.
English potter Walter Keeler and Washington State sculptor Tip Toland demonstrated their making processes in two separate sessions in one of the big ballrooms, watched by literally thousands of people. Each of these folks produces something very different from the other, with Tip sculpting a twice-lifesize head on the right side of the stage and Wally manipulating his thrown clay into lovely pitchers and serving dishes. But each had a modesty and humor about him- and herself that worked well between them and with the vast audience. You'll see a few photos of these two at the top of this post. If you don't know either of them, look them up online. Wonderful work.
- The Resource Room. This ballroom filled with vendors and schools was astonishing in its range. It's hard to believe there was anything clay-related that wasn't there and for sale. Ribs, pugmills, clay mixers, wheel, kilns, brick, aprons, trimming tools, magazines, t-shirts. Think of what's in your studio, it was there and for sale. Or free, in some cases. I ran into a couple from Cape Cod whose first comment was, "Did you get all the free stuff?" Well ... no, I guess not. But a very nice Skutt tech rep talked to me about my elements coming out of their tracks and gave me a package of pins to keep them where they belong. And the South Korean town of Icheon was there to plug its history as a pottery town and a place to make pottery, and they gave me a lovely thick book of the work of their artists.
- In the closing ceremonies, Sandy Simon and Robert Brady, husband and wife, talked about their own careers as functional potter (Sandy) and sculptor/potter (Robert). Both talks, as always, illustrated with projected images. Each talk had wisdom, emotion and humor.
- Not on the program, but equally important, I got to meet Patricia Griffin (patriciagriffinstudio.com), a fellow blogger and one of the people involved in the blogging potters' show two years ago in Southern Pines, NC. Patty is a lovely and enthusiastic maker of beautiful sgraffitoed pots and we'd commented back and forth on various blogs, but never met face to face. She brought along her husband, Mike, who tore up the floor Friday night at the annual dance next door in the Sheraton. At the Mashiko discussion, I met Kris Murabayashi from California (krismurabayashi.com), a maker of lovely minimalist pots and the owner of a dry, sardonic wit. Next to me at the same panel discussion was Lynn Gervens, executive director at Mudflat Studio in Somerville, Mass. (mudlfat.org), and a friend of at least a couple of my potting friends.
And early in the conference, Grace Archambeau and I did one of those "wait a minute ... don't I know that guy?" things while passing in one of the halls. Grace (gracefulpottery.com) is from Sandwich, here on the Cape, and a senior at Mass. College of Art and Design. She sometimes comes to our monthly Clay Club meetings in Cotuit. Grace is talking about building a wood/soda kiln on her family's property in Sandwich, and we sat in together on a very useful soda-firing discussion with Gail Nichols and Matt Long. Grace is also looking for a residency or apprenticeship somewhere after her graduation, so ... anyone who has ideas, let me know. She's interested in the UK, New Zealand and Australia.
This is just a tiny condensation of what happened at NCECA. I didn't see it all, and much of it, frankly, was not for me. A large part of the conference is geared to education, particularly in college art programs. I'm not opposed to that, but it's not what I do, so I found things that interested me.
And the coffee at Tully's in the convention center was worth starting your day.
Photos: Top, Tip Toland gets moving on the massive head she finished on the same stage as English potter Wally Keeler; Tolan and the head the next day; Keeler applies a handle to one of his signature jugs; Dan Anderson decaled pots in one of the gallery rooms; a tiny selection of pots by (I think) Steve Sauer at the POTS Gallery wood-fire show in Fremont.