The History of Utilitarian Clay: Celebrate the Object National Symposium

by Bill Griffith

Utilitarian Clay 6, 2012

Utilitarian Clay 6, 2012

In the spring of 1990, Michael Simon, well respected studio potter from Georgia was teaching a one week workshop at Arrowmont  School of Arts and Crafts.  Bill Griffith, then the Assistant Director of Arrowmont approached Michael at the end of the workshop session and asked for Michael’s thoughts about Arrowmont hosting a conference with a focus on making pottery.  Michael liked the idea and commented, “if you do a conference about pottery, I hope you celebrate the object, damn it!”  With that comment and a bit of editing, the official title was born.  Bill Griffith took the lead designing and coordinating the first conference (referred to as a conference in the early years) held in the fall, 1992.  

Peter Beasecker, was one of the sixteen invited potters/presenters associated with the 1992 symposium.

Peter and Bill -friends since the late 70’s, shared common early educational backgrounds.  After the 1992 symposium, Bill invited Peter to assist in the planning and co-coordination of the 1996 symposium and subsequently, they have co-coordinated all past symposia since then.  The decision to offer the symposium every four years grew out of Arrowmont’s diverse conference offerings and advanced schedule.  As a result, Utilitarian Clay: Celebrate the Object is offered every four years has now often been referred to as the “Olympics of Pottery”.  Also by offering the Symposium every four years, it provides time to identify new talent, changing issues and concerns in the field along with technical and aesthetic concerns to be addressed.

Arrowmont’s rich history of designing and hosting international, national and regional conferences in all media continues to be a vital component of the School’s program offerings today.  Arrowmont’s compact campus and contiguous studios, housing and dining facilities promotes an intimate atmosphere providing meaningful discussion, ongoing dialogue and social interactions to exist.  The facilities comfortably accommodate up to 200 attendees, thus limiting the size of the symposium-another element in promoting an informal and friendly atmosphere.