Rat City Living - Vanessa Norris

Vanessa Norris


Website:  www.vanessamnorris.com

Vanessa Norris grew up in a small town in Maine and spent much of her time drawing and observing as a young person. Craving to get out of her comfort zone, she enrolled in Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston to pursue a life of working with her hands, and it was there she discovered and cultivated a love for clay. Since then, she has moved across the country several times to work for different ceramic artists, including Bruce Larrabee in Park City, UT and Deb Schwartzkopf in Seattle, WA. In addition to assisting and learning from those in her field, Vanessa has instructed courses at MassArt, Moshier Art Center in Burien, WA, Indigo Fire in Belmont, MA, and Maud Morgan in Cambridge, MA. Vanessa is an Artaxis member and exhibits her pots across the United States. She currently lives and works in Boston.

Artist Statement:
At the core of Cloud 9 is perception, and that starts with how the work is viewed from far away versus up close. I make voluminous, buoyant--almost “Seussical”--forms that will potentially grab attention but incorporate white designs on a white clay body in an effort to separate those who will come closer from those who will but glance at my work. Visually, white does not stand out against gallery walls or in the kitchen cupboard; it is a common color for cheap, manufactured ceramic tableware. This lends itself nicely to adding unexpected, tactile elements to my pieces--present only for those who choose to stop, to touch, to ponder. There is a difference between looking and seeing; the interaction (or lack of interaction) is as much a part of my work as the work itself.

Poetry is another important part of how I communicate. It is an internal conversation I have with myself--a different way of processing and cementing what I cannot yet vocalize, and it acts as the grout that holds the shards of my practice together. I am handing you the blueprints to navigate my thoughts--but you as the viewer must first put in the effort. The recognizable iconography of the cloud provides an access point to enter the language of my work. It allows space for reflection on the role cloud idioms play in our perception of the world and our relationships. The small nuances of the everyday are what make a life, after all. For those who take the time, tableware provides an intimate way to experience art.

How have you come to work with Rat City Studios:
Freshly graduated from college, I picked up my life and moved to the opposite side of the country to assist Deb at Rat City Studios. It was quite the move, and though I had never been to Seattle, I had my sights set on working for Deb since I heard about her program a year or so prior.

The year put forth many opportunities to grow. I rekindled my love for writing and photography to complement my practice. Though I am neither athletic nor an early riser, I woke up at three in the morning and biked six miles to my part-time job nearly five days of the week. I watched and learned from Deb, soaking up the triumphs and pitfalls that come with being an artist. And I made a home there--in the pages of my sketchbook and in between each line of poetry. My time at Rat City Studios came and went, but the year will echo and reverberate in my brain, pushing forth new ideas long after I’m gone.

I have returned to Boston for the foreseeable future to pursue opportunities here. This summer, I divided my time between teaching at Indigo Fire, instructing a high school summer intensive course at MassArt, and being a teaching assistant for Kyla Toomey at Harvard Ceramics. I had access to those facilities to continue making my work, so I was able to create new pieces for my portfolio and sell through various venues. This fall, I plan to continue making/teaching at local ceramics studios. I am also embarking on a new path with my partner, Gustavo Barceloni. We are in the process of setting up our own ceramics space called Dirty E Studios in Everett, MA. The first step in the process is to raise the funds necessary to hire an electrician and insulate the space, among other things. To accomplish our goal, we will be launching an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign on September 8th (the link will be posted on my website and Instagram on that day).

If you need me, you can find me working on the new studio, at an open mic poetry night, or sitting by the Charles River esplanade--still with clay covered jeans and my head in the clouds.



Rat City Living - Deb Schwartzkopf

Curator for Rat City Exhibition - Deborah Schwartzkopf


Website: www.ratcitystudios.com/deborah-schwartzkopf

About the Show:
Each individual that is in this show has worked or works with me in some context.  Many of the invited artists are past or current studio assistants.  Others are studio renters or guest artists.  Still others have participated in a yearly invitational where I invite artists to work together for a weekend in my studio. Some of us have kept in touch over many years.  Still others are new to the Rat City Family.  I hope these opportunities both highlight their work, keep us in touch, and provide a motivating deadline.  I am excited to see what everyone has made myself! Enjoy!

Why did you start Rat City Studios:
Rat City Studios is my studio workspace, but it is more than just that. My aim is to build the community of artists working in clay by offering studio assistant positions for emerging artists, connecting people through social and educational events, and maintaining a lively, professional career in the ceramic arts! 

Rat City Studios consist of a residential home property, two studio work areas, a well-equipped kiln yard, and garden space. My home is a 1200 square foot rambler with a full daylight basement.  The basement is completely used for studio use. It includes a secondary bathroom, a packing and shipping room, a small kitchenette, rented studio spaces and my studio space - every inch is put to good use!   There is a secondary 750 square foot building which is used as a teaching classroom and also has spaces for up to three studio assistants.  

I began having studio assistants for several reasons:  I needed extra hands in the studio to get everything done, I wanted to have a meaningful impact and dialogue within the clay community, and I worked for amazing potters and got so much out of it so I hope I can do the same for others. The assistants apply to join in a year-long position, trading their time for studio space. Together we do lots of chores, building projects, promotion projects, have exhibitions, have discussions, drink beer, do more chores, manage deadlines, make things with clay, do more chores etc... I want this to be a place where art making, daily living and experiential learning fuse. To read more details about the position read on...

Another project the assistants and I work on are the Resource Pages on the RCS Website. These are for myself, people working at the studio, friends in the field or anyone who happens upon them.  There is a glaze resource page, links to resources for making it as an artist, safety in the studio links, and much more.  

Further community building endeavors include weekly clay classes for all levels, specialized technique based clay workshops, seminars on professional development as an artist, our annual summer party-potluck, and participation in Urban Farm Events. I find having these at my home-studio is a fabulous way to meet people living just blocks away.  The studio is hopping and full of life!  Learning is a passion of mine.  I want to keep growing in ways to give back to the community.  

Deb was born and raised in Seattle, Washington.  She earned a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Alaska (1999-2002) and worked for studio potters in the Anchorage area.  During a year long independent study at San Diego State University, she focused mainly on glazing. Deb completed a Masters of Fine Arts at Penn State in May of 2005. Since then she has taught at Ohio University, Massachusetts College of Art and Design and the University of Washington.  She has worked nationally at the Archie Bray Foundation (MT), Mudflat Studios (MA), The Clay Studio (PA), Pottery Northwest (WA), Watershed (ME), and internationally at Sanbao in Jingdezhen, China, and the Residency for Ceramics-Berlin in, Germany.  Deb also had the pleasure of teaching with the University of Georgia’s study abroad program in Cortona, Italy for a semester. She has taught over 80 workshops and exhibited all around the country, as well as internationally. After ten years of traveling for education, residencies, and teaching appointment Deb moved back to Seattle in 2009.  Since buying a house and studio space in 2013, she has been busy doing projects to create a beautiful, functional space to make pots.  Between herself, her studio assistants, studio members who rent space, and people participating in classes all work in clay, they keep the wheels turning! 

Artist Statement:
Momentum, Curiosity, Community

In order to make pottery I must approach the clay with openness and practiced skill, with a clear idea and playful intuition.  My studio practice is a constant cycle referring to itself in the way I draw from my own processes and from my approach to problem solving.  I also look farther afield, drinking in the many details of the world around me. I am a sponge for nuances of color placement in birds and how shadows break up forms and cause me to notice them anew. I am always seeking and asking myself, “How does this cup feel when held? Where will this pitcher live?  What am I communicating with this line or volume?”  As I spend hours in my studio working away, my mind blends and refracts the interests I research and the circling, recurring questions.  I love the stillness and intensity of my studio practice in which I am free to listen, to move clay, to invent… My studio practice feeds me.  I am fulfilled building my community through teaching workshops, trading eggs with neighbors, and spending time with friends and family. I am busy like a bee tending to the details of life, keeping up with my many hobbies, keeping my studio practice vibrate, promoting my career, mentoring in the studio, gardening and occasionally tinking away on my banjo. This constant motion feeds my energy and excitement for life, which I strive to capture in the forms and surfaces of my pottery. 


A Conversation with A. Blair Clemo & Emily Schroeder Willis

"Defunct factory in Jingdezhen, China. Discarded industrial molds visible in background

"Defunct factory in Jingdezhen, China. Discarded industrial molds visible in background

ESW:  Over the past several years you have been traveling quite a bit doing residencies, where
are the most recent spots that you’ve been?
I try to do a residency, or some activity that will take me out of my studio every summer. I like the experience of making in a new place, with new facilities, materials and possibilities. This summer I spent a few weeks at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena.  Montana with the other Objective Clay folks. That’s where the work in this exhibition was made. Last summer, I spent a month in Jingdezhen China at the International Ceramics Studio. I’m planning to go back to China and work for a few weeks before the new year.

ESW: What’s been the experimentation that’s come out of those experiences?
ABC: Everything is experimental if you change enough parameters. Every new studio, clay, glaze and kiln presents a potential unknown in the work. I find traveling, especially abroad, is an excellent way to invite new processes, material sensibilities and questions into the work. Often when I travel, I take only basic tools with me, nothing specific to my studio work at home. This forces me to engage with the new studio actively and explore new ideas. For example, I am not set up for slipcasting in my home studio, and it is something I have never been particularly interested in exploring. Going to China last summer, and having casting slip readily available to me allowed for me to experiment with that possibility easily, and without any preconceived ideas sketched out. I am still not using slipcasting in the usual sense of the technique, but it has made its way into my practice at home, something that I don’t think would have happened without designating time to play without the pressures of my home studio. I also found a lot of post-industrial molds in China, molds that had been used for factory production and discarded. Using these molds forced me to work with new forms, found forms that I would likely never thought to make otherwise. There is no way to plan ahead for work like that, you have to just jump in, see what’s available and make pots happen! I like working that way.

ESW:  The new work you are making seems to be more based on ceramic history and less focused on utility, can you talk about that a little?
ABC: I would actually shift that question a little. I don’t think I am focused less on utility, in fact, it is absolutely one of the most important and active question in my pots. All my pots (I make non-useful sculptural work also) are intended to work, I don’t undermine their use in any intentional way, and am very considerate of their utilitarian qualities; I want them to function earnestly as pots.

They are pots, just not easy pots.

Everyday Object Series: Mugs. Wheel Thrown and Assembled Red Stoneware. 2016.

Everyday Object Series: Mugs. Wheel Thrown and Assembled Red Stoneware. 2016.

How easy a pot is to use should be an active question for potters! My work is not typically about comfort, and my pots are not meant to be seen-and-not-heard. I have a friend that once told me, “I like your cups, but I don’t want to think about your Graduate thesis everytime I drink a damn cup of coffee!”. I think this is a spot-on criticism of my pots, sometimes their odd nature gets in the way of you ignoring the pot and just enjoying your cup of coffee. Well, I think that is EXACTLY what my job is as a potter! A user may not want to think about a cup, it is my intention to encourage them otherwise! If these pots have conceptual qualities that make their use less passive, that is not meant to undermine, but to raise a question about use.

There is a vast history of vessels that could potentially function as useful pots, but were never intended to do so. Garniture are a perfect example. It is a 20th century modern mentality that utility is the most important aspect of a useful pot. I challenge that. I see use as one of many potentially interesting aspects of pottery, but not necessarily the most important. Sometimes it’s less about use, and more about the questions that arise from considering the potential of use.

ESW: You’ve also recently become Ceramics Area Head of the Craft and Materials Studies Program at Virginia Commonwealth University, how has that affected your studio practice?
ABC:  I am just starting my 4th academic year at VCU, my first full-time teaching appointment. It has completely changed how I think about my studio practice. Anyone familiar with teaching in academia will recognize the “Teaching, Research and Service” breakdown to measure faculty output. The university calls my studio work “research”. That is a term that I have really questioned a lot in the last 3 years and I don’t just dismiss it as university jargon.

What does it mean to be researching in the studio? What does pottery research look like? Consider the other term for studio work: “practice”. Many of us refer to our studio time as our “practice”, but not in the “practice make perfect” sense. It means skilled execution, it implies a certain level of proficiency and ability to anticipate outcomes. Our practice is knowing how to make stuff. A Surgeon has a medical “practice”, and I sincerely hope that they are proficient and know what outcomes to expect when they cut us open! But research is different than practice, the exact outcomes of research are yet unknown. Thinking of my studio as a research space has changed the way I think about pots, and helped me to focus much more on the way that I am making, not what I am hoping for as an end result. Thinking of my pots as a point of research allows me to try lots of different things and see what happens, leaving the outcome dictated by the process. That’s been a huge change in my studio that last few years.

ESW: You’ve been putting up some killer videos on Instagram that I drool over!  How do you feel like social media plays a role in your studio work?
ABC:  I like Instagram, its really the only social media I use. I like posting what’s happening in the studio on a regular basis because I try a lot of different things. Process is something that is so often lost, or taken for granted in a finished pot. I am really focused on process right now in the studio, little videos and in-progress images are a way to show how I’m thinking and where my work is headed. I don’t get fired results too often because I explore a lot and have a lot of failures, lots of work never makes it to the kiln. Posting process shots seems to create some kind of record, even if something doesn’t work out, people still get to see it, and I still get to look back and reconsider it.

Plus, it’s fun to get more followers, who doesn’t like that?

ESW: What are some ideas yet you have been thinking about that haven’t yet had a chance to materialize in your work?
I’m just rolling with the work right now, allowing each pot to inform the next. I made a big mistake this summer though and fired some of my pots (the work in this exhibition) in a Salt/Soda kiln at Penland School of Crafts. I love the results. It feels really right for these pots. I used to soda fire all my work, over a decade ago, and have not really considered it since. The problem here is that I don’t have easy access to a salt/soda kiln right now, VCU is an urban campus and we can’t put off any vapor. So, the next big thing for me is to build a salt kiln at home, I’ll be working on the in the next few months. In the meantime, anyone within a days drive from Richmond, VA have a salt kiln I can fire to cone 9 in November/December? This sounds like a joke... but I’m serious… I’ll pay you.

3Q9A9648 2.JPG

A Conversation Between Deb Schwartzkopf & Shawn Spangler

Sugar Bowl by Steve Godfrey

Sugar Bowl by Steve Godfrey


SS:  Where did you first study ceramics? How did that influence you and prompt you to continue working in clay?
I first studied ceramics at Highline Community College in Seattle, WA.  I took classes as a high school student through a running start program available in the state. I enjoyed it, but it did not stand out until I took classes again as a student at the University of Alaska Anchorage with Steve Godfrey, Pam Pemberton, and Robert Banker.  In this community I found a place to belong and was challenged by each of my teachers in a way I found meaningful. I also worked for two studio potters in the area.  Both my time assisting potters and academic experience were formative and helped me find my path as a potter.

In Alaska, working with Peter Brondz 

In Alaska, working with Peter Brondz 

SS:  Looking back in your career as a ceramic artist, could you talk about one decision you made that influenced where you are now as an artist.

DS:  Moving to Alaska was one of the most formative decisions I have made.  I would say the second most important was buying a house.  Moving to Alaska was my effort to find a path away from what I knew, without knowing exactly what I was seeking to change. I find it much easier to change when I have a specific goal. In the case of this move, I was seeking space, a chance to grow in a new environment, and the mountains. I was seeking a place where priorities where different and more clear.  I found this to be made true by the intense landscape and climate.  I felt small in the vastness of place.  I felt a different focus come into being as winter demanded indoor time and summer pushed me into the garden or onto a trail.  I felt a reset happening that was making me more aware of my surroundings.  I also felt lonely.  Reaching out to share experience in a new place made me more aware of how I interacted with people and how much I needed companionship. Moving to Alaska pushed me way out of my comfort zone and helped me see myself. I have moved many times since then. Each time I am reminded of these lessons and they are added to with new experiences.

Buying a house is one of the most stressful and rewarding things I have ever done. Mortgage brokers were not happy to hear I make pottery for a living.  They are even less happy where I proved my income with a huge pile of gallery and workshop paystubs from all over the country with incredibly varying amounts and frequency.  I am lucky I my mother co-signed with me and that close friends loaned me half the down payment. The hardest thing about having a house now is figuring out which project is most important.  I would so much rather buy another fruit tree than fix the gutters.  I would SO much rather add studio windows rather than fixing electrical issues no one else will ever notice.  BUT, there is a more appropriate order and I am finding my way.  I find being able to invest in a place completely worth the stress of being in debt with a mortgage.  Building shelving that is both beautiful and works well is something I would not have done if I knew I had to move again.  Now I have space to offer assistants.  Now I can wire and plumb for permitted kilns.  Now people seek out my place to visit and buy pottery.  Now I can plant asparagus and fruit trees- things that take many years to mature. These are amazing, hard-won benefits. I hold at bay thoughts about how many cups it takes to pay the mortgage.  I focus on the new lessons I am learning about digging in and staying put.  I am growing from a new chapter in my life.

Deb Schwartzkopf trying out her new coffee pour over form on top of a Shawn Spangler cup.

Deb Schwartzkopf trying out her new coffee pour over form on top of a Shawn Spangler cup.

SS:  How often do you work towards new and different designs in your work? 
In my studio practice I have forms that are well refined and worked out.  These are more reliable.  I need these to pay the mortgage.  I enjoy making them, but I also want to explore and grow.  Mixed into my making cycle is time to discover new forms and test for glazes.  This is supported by my way of using bisque molds.  The shapes of them are present in my studio.  I can glance over to the wall of molds and imagine them into new combinations.  Then I can try it out.  Or at times I will have left over segments from current projects.  Pieces these together into an unknown shape is a fun game.

SS:  What does you current studio schedule look like?  
My life is full and I like it that way.  I take breaks in the garden and tending my chickens and bees.  I love to cook.  Spending time with friends and family is important to me. I usually rise around 7:30, have a cup of coffee and have a bite to eat with Joe before he heads off to his own studio or day-job.  A few moments to space out and watch the chickens or bees brings me into studio time.  Twice a week I work with studio assistants on various projects around the studio.  Most days, I spend the better part of the day working on some aspect of the studio, be it web design, packing and shipping, event planning, or making work. We write about studio happenings on the Rat City Studios Blog.  Check it out! I am now teaching classes out of my studio and I also teach workshops nationally.  A bit over half of my income is from making pots and selling them through galleries, craft fairs and online via the Objective Clay Website and my personal website.  The other half is a mix of teaching workshops, community classes at craft centers locally, teaching classes from my studio, writing articles, & DVD royalties. It is a patch-work quilt life. I am excited to have a few short-term residencies coming up in 2018-2019! Noticing the larger cycles and the freedom within them gives me a lot of variation in my days.

Deb's Garden

Deb's Garden

Chickens in her yard

Chickens in her yard

Jams made from the berries in her yard

Jams made from the berries in her yard


A conversation between Jen Allen & Emily Schroeder Willis

Anneliese and Finn playing in the studio with Jen

Anneliese and Finn playing in the studio with Jen

ESW: What made you want to start working in jewelry?
JA: Last fall I found myself in desperate need of a creative outlet. With a two year old in constant tow, it was impossible to get down to my studio to make pots. It started with my daughter and I making Christmas ornaments on the kitchen table and then quickly transitioned into porcelain jewelry.

ESW: Have you liked that transition?
JA: I’m a bit obsessed! I love having the freedom to experiment with forms that interact with the body in a different way (than pots do).

ESW: What have been the challenges of working on a smaller scale?
JA: It’s funny because in some ways I feel like I’m working on a larger scale. I now think of the body as the vessel that I’m decorating. The exciting part is considering that the form is now the decoration.

Earring studs from Jen's current jewelry collecion

Earring studs from Jen's current jewelry collecion


ESW: What are some of the things you find yourself exploring in jewelry that might help inform some of your future pots?
JA: Definitely the incorporation of other media. I love working with wire as it lends a linear element similar to my drawn lines.

ESW: Who are some of the people you’ve been looking to for influences, either in jewelry or elsewhere for your current body of work?
JA: I have always been intrigued by body adornment. Whether it is tattoo or scarification or fashion or body altering “jewelry”, I am fascinated by what various cultures perceive as “beautiful”. I look a lot at tribal culture, specifically the Mursi and Suri tribes in Ethiopia. I also recently befriended an amazingly talented metalsmith and jeweler, Maia Leppo, who has been a tremendous help to me as I navigate this new way of working.

Mursi and Suri (Surma) body adornment

Mursi and Suri (Surma) body adornment

ESW: You have helped to curate a jewelry show with Lindsay Oesterritter that will open on the Objective Clay website on October 15th, which people participating in the show are you most excited about?  
JA: I am excited about everyone involved as we have an incredible line-up of artists!
Joanna Powell, Melissa Mencini, Lorna Meaden, Amy Santaferraro, Lauren Gallaspy, Deb Schwartzkopf, Lindsay Oesterritter, Mallory Wetherell, Lindsay Locatelli, Elizabeth Pechacek, Cydney Ross, Reiko Yamamoto, Jenna Vanden Brink, Kari Radasch.
Most of the invited artists’ jewelry I am familiar with but I’d have to say that I can’t wait to see what Kari Radasch comes up with for the show! Knowing her, her pots, her tile work and her sense of style I am so looking forward to her pieces!

Jen's earrings

Jen's earrings

ESW: Will you still be making pots in the future?
JA: Of course! The jewelry is an added venture, NOT a new direction. I remain fascinated by functional objects and how they become an active part of our daily lives. I am in constant search for beauty and am intrigued by the myriad of ways it can manifest itself.  

Side by Side with Tony Clennell and Ben Carter

by Jen Allen and Lindsay Oesterritter

With so many new ways to access information, and current sharing platforms (podcasts, N.I.C.E., online classes, social media, etc.), we were curious how people collect and disseminate information to their respected community. We reached out to Ben Carter, founder of the Tales of the Red Clay Rambler Podcast and Tony Clennell, who has produced videos, published a book, and is a blogger extraordinaire. They both graciously shared information about themselves, the social media outlets they manage, and how they view the role of these outlets in the ceramics community.

This is part of an ongoing series of interviews and investigations about contemporary ceramics education and the shifts in learning. If you, as the reader has specific questions or ideas that you would like answered as part of this new series of articles published on the Objective Clay Blog, please feel free to email Objective Clay, directing your questions and ideas to Jen Allen and Lindsay Oesterritter.

Jen Allen and Lindsay Oesterritter


Tony Clennell & Ben Carter

Tony Clennell & Ben Carter


What is your background/education?

TC: My aunt and uncle started their pottery in 1946. I started working in clay when I was 6 years old.  They encouraged me not to become a potter. They wanted me to work with my head and not my hands. I went to Ryerson University and finished my Bachelor’s of Business Administration and then my Bachelor of Education. I taught high school for 13 years before going full time in pottery. At the ripe age of 55 I went to Utah State University for my Masters of Fine Arts.

BC: My training comes from both academic and studio environments. My degrees from Appalachian State University and the University of Florida are focused on ceramic design and painting. Between degrees I worked as a production potter at Black Mountain Studios in Swannanoa, NC and other potteries in the Appalachian region.

How were you first introduced to clay/ceramics?

TC: My aunt and uncle made pots for 47 years. 

BC: I was fortunate to find ceramics as a high school student in southwestern Virginia. I was hooked from day one and have been making pots every since.

What was one important decision you made in your career path to get where you are now?

TC: I’m not sure if they were decisions or misfires. I had hung out with these two eccentric potters all my life so I really didn’t know how to conform to life in the business world or the ringing of a bell.  I never saw failure to make a living at pots as an option so I just did it. 

BC: Three quarters of the way into a non-studio arts degree my ceramics professor Lisa Stinson asked me, “How can you be a good teacher if you are not a good artist?” Within a week I transferred over to the studio-based program where I could focus solely on learning to be a potter. This decision to aim for a depth of knowledge in ceramics instead of a breadth of knowledge across all art has been key to me being firmly rooted in the field of ceramics. This approach wouldn’t work for all artists but giving myself permission to focus solely on ceramics opened my mind. By making the commitment to clay as a primary material I greatly expanded how far I could take the ceramic process.

tony clennell ben carter

Goals & Impact:

What motivates you to continue to contribute to a blog? How do you use this platform in conjunction with your pottery, videos, and book?

TC: Lindsay, the blog started when we went to China as part of our graduate studies. I started it to keep in touch with my family and friends. As you know everything in China is interesting. Sharks hanging in Wal-Mart, dried flying squirrels as medicine in the drug store. So my diary of our day to day in China exploded with more than 750 readers per day.

It brought attention to me as a potter and I have to think it has contributed to a life as a travelling mudslinger. 2015 had me in WV, Georgia, Florida, Korea, Wales, British Colombia, NY and Italy. How else would they know about me? I am lucky enough to sell my pots and my book at these workshops. The DVD’s died with You-tube and Ceramics Arts Daily doing their own. 

What motivates you to continue to contribute to your podcast? How do you use this platform in conjunction with your personal website, instructional videos, etc.?

BC: This might seem obvious, but I’m a huge fan of ceramics. I’m motivated by my own ceramic geekery. Interviewing other artists is a huge honor and a reward in and of itself. The podcast has allowed me direct access to my ceramic heroes, which I don't take lightly. We are in the midst of a resurgence of both studio pottery and ceramics in the fine art context, and I’m just lucky to be one of the people who gets to observe and document it all. I also really enjoy being able to contribute to the ceramics community and widen access to discussions in the field.

The podcast is a core part of my personal presence online but it is not directly about me. For information about myself I use my website and social media to disseminate information about the exhibitions and workshops that I participate in. 

What do you hope to contribute or gain from your blog/podcast on a personal level and professional level?

TC: I really don’t write the blog for anyone or for any particular reason. I write it for me. I work and live alone so it my way of talking out what I’m thinking. I feel like I’m talking to someone but mostly I am talking to myself and trying to figure out what I’m doing with my work and my life. I do get notes from loyal followers when I haven’t written for a few days asking me if I’m Ok and what’s goin’ on? So in a way it has become a responsibility.

BC: What do you hope to contribute or gain from your podcast on a personal level and professional level? In the beginning the podcast was documentation of exchanges I was already having with people. It was more about making a memory tool for myself. About a year into recording episodes I realized I could make an impact on the field if I focused on bringing forward the collective narratives of the ceramic world. My motivation is now focused on recording both individual and institutional contributions to the ceramic field with the hope that this will help others draw their own conclusions about the field’s growth and importance.

The podcast has now become an integral part of my studio and teaching life. My conversations with podcast guests have introduced me to a whole new set of questions to answer in my studio practice. I’ve done long-form interviews with around 140 artists, which is only part of the experience. With every interview I am shown how smart, skilled, and impassioned the members of our ceramic community. Collecting this information fuels me to make better work when I am in the studio.

It’s hard to boil it down, but I’d say the podcast’s greatest contribution is that it is a catalyst for dialogue about the role of ceramics in contemporary life. I regularly receive emails, tweets, and comments from listeners who came to a new awareness of their experiences through listening to one of my guests talk about their creative practice. I have had that same feeling while listening to other podcasts, so I feel fortunate to be apart of that process for my listeners.

In reading many of your posts, it seems like you easily relate personal aspects of your life on a very public platform. Can you ever share too much? Do you struggle with knowing how much to let people know, or being offensive in informality? How much do you worry about being grammatically correct?

TC: I don’t air my dirty laundry publicly. If you write as much as I do you are bound to piss someone off. There are those trolls out there that just want to burn my ass because they are jealous of something or the other. Maybe I struck a cord that they really felt was directed to them. It wasn’t but they take it all personally. 

How do you navigate the art of conversation?  Do you ever struggle with how casual or how formal the interview is?  How much editing do you do, if any?

BC: Recording a conversation is surprisingly different than recording an interview. Conversations are filled with verbal affirmations that let the other person know you are paying attention. Most speakers tend to lean on casual verbal ticks when they are speaking casually. An interview on the other hand is more direct in its tone. I wouldn’t say my style is formal, but it is direct. I ask a question, and I try my best to wait for a response. This allows the other person time to think.

So much of the information that is available out there is either first person narrative from artists or critical response from art critics and scholars. While these two are helpful, there is a need for a middle ground that is built on the observations of an educated practitioner. When I’m interviewing I’m not a critic, I’m a researcher, and so my job is to ask questions that will draw out the unique thought processes that enable each individual to make the work that they make.

Most of the content editing I do involves taking out gaps of silence or waiting words (um, ah, etc.). The end result of those edits is a livelier interview. In terms of sound editing I edit for clarity and overall sound quality. A lot of those edits depend on the conditions of the room where we recorded the interview. I try to make our voices as clear and noise free as possible so that the listener feels included in the conversation. If edited correctly the illusion is that listener joins myself and the other person in the interview space. It's a subtle shift in terms of sound, but it makes a world of difference. Some interviews take up two or three hours to create that type of sound, while others only take thirty minutes. I do most of my interviews on location at people’s homes so I’ve learned the hard way that it’s better to isolate errant sounds in the room before the conversation as opposed to try and take them out of the recording later. 

What is a memorable post/podcast because of the comments you got back or unintentional impact that it had?

TC: If I want to increase the numbers of readers I just swear, mention God or meat tray pottery. The one that went nuts was my post on Meat trays and paper dollies. Geezus the airwaves were burnin’. I referred to them as beginner pots that had no right being sold for money at Guild sales. I think readership that day went to 1800 readers. People wrote me and told me they would never take a workshop with me etc., etc. If you write as much as I have you have to accept the delete button as one of your best friends. 

BC: I’ve found there are two very different levels of perception that happen in an interview. The first is the face-to-face perspective I witness when sitting in front of a person. This is more about emotional and social connections that happen in a conversation. The second is the auditory perspective of the listener who isn’t present in the room with us. They don’t see and feel the body language of the person, and this physical distance creates a perceptual shift. It seems to allow the listener to focus solely on the ideas we talk about in the interview. I’m always amazed when episodes that have a lot of emotional connection for me don’t elicit the most comments or downloads. Because of that I have my favorite podcasts, and I think the listeners have theirs.

tony clennell and ben carter

Past & Future:

What research or blogs did you look to before starting your own?

TC: None. I just did it. A bit like my entire career!

BC: I was a regular reader of Michael Kline’s Sawdust and Dirt, Carole Epp’s Musing about Mud, and Carter Gillies’ ceramic blog before I started writing my own. All three of those folks focus on slightly different aspects of their ceramic experience, and I think my blog posts were a mixture of the three. Once I started podcasting my influences came more from radio. I’ve been a loyal radio fan my whole life, so I’ve drawn heavily from the interview styles of Fresh Air’s Terry Gross and Dave Davies. I also have benefited hugely from friendships with fellow podcasting potters Brian Jones (Brian R. Jonescast) and Paul Blias (The Potterscast). They are the brain trust I turn to if I have questions about the tone or direction of the show.

Ideally, how do students/ potters/ patrons/etc. use the information you are relaying? What is your end goal? 

TC: I hope it gives students something to think about in the making of their work and living of their lives.  My end goal is to keep making pots. That’s pretty how simple my mind is. 

BC: My goal is for the episodes to be conversation starters. I love the idea that an episode might create a discussion between two artists who disagree about an idea that was brought up in the interview. I’ve had a few college professors tell me they play the interviews during their open studio sessions and then talk about them with their students afterwards. This is tremendously gratifying because they are experiencing the same excitement and stimulation I feel from doing the interviews.

In a larger sense my goal is to energize the ceramic field with a sense of shared experience. Artists are great at putting our heads down and working alone in our studios. I find we aren’t as good at reaching out to other artists even if we share so much in common with them. The most frequent comment that I receive is that the show makes listeners feel connected to other makers.

How has your blog/podcast evolved over the years?  Has your interview/writing style changed?  If so, how?

TC: No, I think ever since my writing days with Clay Times I have had my own voice. It is as you suggested very personal and I hope sincere.

BC: Um…well….ah…um….I guess….I have tried hard to learn how to speak in complete sentences. Listening back to some of the early episodes all I can hear is how many nervous verbal ticks I had. I am now conscious to ask a question and then sit back and wait for an answer. This makes the interviews more potent.

I’ve also become more direct in my questions and more willing to hear the words “I’d rather not talk about that.” I used to be much more tentative because I was afraid to challenge the other person too much. Now I try to get into challenging territory within the first 15 minutes. In my mind a good interview is one in which both the interviewee and myself talk about a subject that we have never put into words before. I’m trying to draw out areas of experience and understanding that we have thought about but have never talked about with our peers. If we can ride that edge of fresh understanding, the interview process can become focused on discovery and learning. The episodes that achieve that make for compelling listening.

How do you envision the future of your blog/podcast?  Do you anticipate it evolving into something new?

TC: Gee, Lindsay some 12 year old walking down the street will have to lead me into something new. I dread that they will even change the format of my blog and I’ll have to learn to do something else. I haven’t changed it at all in a couple of years mostly out of computer ignorance.

BC: I plan to continue the podcast in its current form with the possibility of increasing the amount of episodes I release each week. I’m looking at funding options that will enable me to hire a sound engineer. I’d love to generate enough backing to increase my output to two episodes a week, including one-on-one interviews and more live tapings of topical panel discussions. I plan to keep the show free to the public but I’m knocking around merchandise ideas, grant possibilities and private funding.

In the last year I’ve come to see the podcast as a research archive. I’m in the gathering stage of a larger understanding of the “state of the field” in contemporary ceramics. I’d like to compile the observations I’ve made over the last four years and write them down in a cohesive and accessible way. I’m not sure if it will take the form of a book or of a series of journal articles, but I’m thinking about ways to get the information out there.

tony clennell ben carter

Side by Side with Joshua Green and Sherman Hall

by Lindsay Oesterritter and Jen Allen

With so many new ways to access information and current sharing platforms (podcasts, N.I.C.E., online classes, social media, etc.), we were curious how two of our communities most long standing, respected and recognized organizations are shifting with the times.  We reached out to Joshua Green, Executive Director of NCECA (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) and Sherman Hall, Director of Ceramic Publications Company. They both graciously shared information about themselves, the institutions they lead, and how they see their organization's future roles in the ceramics community. 

 This is the first of an ongoing series of interviews and investigations about contemporary ceramics education and the shifts in learning. If you have specific questions or ideas that you would like answered as part of this new series of articles published on the Objective Clay Blog, please feel free to email Objective Clay, directing your questions and ideas to Jen Allen and Lindsay Oesterritter.

                                                                                     -Jen Allen and Lindsay Oesterritter

 Side by Side with Joshua Green and Sherman Hall


 What is your background/education?

JG:  I studied ceramics at Bennington College, where I worked with Stanley Rosen and Jane Ford Aebersold. I graduated with a major in visual art but only after spending a lot of time working towards a writing major. I did graduate work at the Cranbrook Academy of Art where I earned my MFA under Jun Kaneko and met my wife Denise Suska Green.

 SH:  I have a BFA in ceramics from The Ohio State University. I took the six year undergraduate plan from 1990 through 1996, starting with the Columbus College of Art and Design, then Ohio State (for cheap academics), then New York University (followed a girl there—but there are way worse reasons to do a lot of things), and back to The Ohio State University where, as it turns out, I wish I had more time. I also like to say that I have received an on-the-job advanced degree in publishing over the past 16 years that I’ve worked at the American Ceramic Society.

 How were you first introduced to clay/ceramics?

JG:  My interest in ceramics began during my teens under the guidance of my brother Bob Green who continues to work as a full time studio potter. Bob has been extremely influential passing on my first glimpses of what it meant to make a life in the field. During my teens I was also fortunate to have a very student centered art teacher named Dennis Piuno who had studied painting at the Kansas City Art Institute. We had a classroom dedicated to ceramics with kick wheels, an electric kiln and glaze materials. We mixed clay in a Walker pugmill. During my teens I spent a couple of summers at the Hinckley School in Maine, which was a boarding school during the academic year and in the summer, had an affiliation with Haystack at the time. One summer, my teacher was Michael Frimkess who was there with his wife Magdalena. One of the teaching assistants, Ken Bell, later set up a studio in Long Island not far from where I lived at the time. I worked for him over the next school year and took a glaze chemistry course at Greenwich House Pottery. Before I started college, I was able to leave high school a semester early and was a special student at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville where my brother was pursuing his MFA.

 SH:  I had the incredible good fortune to go to a high school that had a dedicated ceramics room staffed by a professional potter (Mr. Fender). He could throw a pitcher in two pulls, pull the spout without wiping his hands, pull a handle and attach it from rim to belly, all in about 5 minutes. It wasn’t his speed so much as his facility with the material that convinced me that both he and the material were a little bit magic, and I wanted to know more. I had always leaned toward art, and my high-school experience with ceramics was the thing that convinced me to pursue it in college.

Sherman Hall in the Studio

Sherman Hall in the Studio

 What was your career path to get where you are now?

JG:  After completing my MFA I was initially unsuccessful in applying for teaching positions. We were about to have our first child and decided to move to Vermont where I had been living prior to grad school. I knew a studio we could rent and a restaurant I could work in. My brother had a house we could rent a share of. Denise was hired as a tech for the printmaking studio at Bennington College as she had a good background from her undergrad years at Carnegie Mellon University. We made work, sold some and were spread very thin. After a few years of making and showing as best we could, we decided to move on. Subsequently, I had a residency in a campus life program at Stony Brook University in New York. Then Denise and I were asked to fill in as artists-in-residence at Spirit Square Arts Center in Charlotte, North Carolina where I helped launch a cooperative studio that I was asked to stay on and manage. By then, both Denise and I were teaching at several colleges and community centers in the area on an adjunct basis. In 1989, I was offered a full time position directing the ceramics program at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in Pittsburgh. Bill Strickland was the next important mentor in my career. I continued there for more than 20 years gaining new skills and taking on more administrative capacities. I served as Director of Arts and Education Strategies for eight of those years and Vice President of Operations for six. It was a rich and challenging experience. My teaching artist colleagues and students were inspiring, perseverant and creative. We worked very hard and were able to pursue some great opportunities with visiting artists, exhibitions and special projects including a series of residencies at Penland over spring breaks.

SH: Well, I can tell you what happened, but I can’t really describe any plan I had, because I couldn’t have planned it if I tried. That said, I think I was prepared to take advantage of opportunities as they presented themselves (luck favors the prepared mind, as they say). As a subscriber to Ceramics Monthly in 1999 I received a form letter from the editor of the magazine telling me that they were looking for editorial help from someone with studio ceramics knowledge, and I happened to live in the right zip code (I learned that day that CM was published in my home town). I was at their offices the next day with my résumé.

 Four years after starting as assistant editor checking technical facts, the editor retired and I applied for the job and got it (I figured I knew enough after four years to give it a go). Because of some internal restructuring, I spent the next three years getting crash courses from four different publishers in the various ways to approach magazine publishing (turns out there are about as many ways to make magazines as there are ways to make pots for a living).

 After the Ceramic Publications Company (CPC) was officially formed in 2006, we expanded from publishing Ceramics Monthly and Pottery Making Illustrated and some books to operating the Ceramic Arts Daily website and I accepted the role of Editorial Director, coordinating all of our editorial efforts across all platforms.

 Everything up to this point was a fairly natural (if sometimes tumultuous) progression and felt a lot like building something in the studio; one creative effort leads to another. But when the publisher and president of CPC moved into the role of Executive Director of our parent organization, The American Ceramic Society, I accepted the role of Managing Director of CPC. At this point, I stepped away from being editor of Ceramics Monthly, and really am now focused on staff and product development.

 What made you decide to take on the role of Executive Director, NCECA?
JG:  I had been a conference attendee and member of NCECA on and off since around 1984. Aurore Chabot had an exhibition and residency at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, and I had written something for her show. She saw some promise in it and asked me to consider writing for the NCECA Journal. This motivated me to get more deeply involved in the organization and also encouraged me to attend the conference and visit exhibitions with greater focus. When the NCECA board had to make a quick pivot away from New Orleans for the 2008 conference due to damage to one of the hotels, they selected Pittsburgh as the alternate site. I was approached to become the Onsite Conference Liaison. We had less than one year to plan the conference, so I joined the board and experienced a crash course in NCECA governance. When the executive director position opened in 2010, it was a time at which I really had to consider how I envisioned the part of my life and career that was remaining before me. I was familiar with some of the then board and staff and a few encouraged me to apply. I felt that I had accomplished a lot at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild. My role there was evolving in a way that I felt was less connected to my interests in art and artists. The extent to which I had been pushed outside of my comfort zone in my role at the Guild is also what really made me sense that I could accomplish something with the NCECA position. I saw the opportunity with NCECA as a way to re-engage my interests in the arts and artists at a higher level and make them more a part of my daily focus.

 What made you decide to take on the role of Managing Director, Ceramics Publication Company?  

SH:  Honestly, after 11 years as editor, being immersed in the editorial pursuit of ever-more-excellent content, and being the cheerleader for the field (that seriously is how I defined my job) I was getting a little tired of chasing deadlines and getting authors and artists to stick to their deadlines. I spent a lot of time and energy building a competent editorial team, and though I really hadn’t planned it this way, I found that I had actually been the architect of my own exit strategy from editorial. While the notion of leaving hands-on interaction with content was daunting, it has been made clear to me over the past two years that the magazines and website could not be in better hands.

 Now, as I mentioned, I get to focus on new things like developing online recipe databases, putting the full magazine archive of CM and PMI online, and I spend time thinking about what would have helped me when I was learning—then we see if we can make it happen. It’s actually pretty exciting to think that I can play a fairly significant role in deciding what

Goals in Position & Impact of Organization:

What educational impact do you want to leave and or foster on place/community (thinking locally and globally)?

JG:  I was never the kind of artist that could be fully satisfied with immersion in my studio alone. The times that I have felt most challenged, impacted and accomplished have all involved a shared experience with others. NCECA was launched with the aspirational vision to create a sense of connectedness and meaning among a group of people involved in teaching and creating ceramic art. Almost from the start, NCECA was grappling with divergent interests and backgrounds among its members. This has only further developed over time. My experiences in community arts, early childhood, and at the collegiate level bore out an appreciation that there was tremendous rigor and creativity occurring in all these sectors of the continuum that NCECA embodies. I hope that the impact we are making demonstrates our efforts to curate, amplify and reflect the diverse rigor and creativity taking place throughout the field. We are also looking and listening for important and emergent ideas and people we are not yet aware of to further expand this vision.

 SH: Mostly I think globally when it comes to what we do here, but the impact is always local. We do want to make our mud pie bigger. We want to make ceramic art something more people know about and have access to, and that begins with accessible information, from how to make ceramics to how to make a living to how folks might set up a ceramics center.

 How do you keep younger generations engaged and continuing to buy memberships and to attend the annual conferences? Especially with so much free information that is available nowadays. 

JG:  Our members teaching ceramics across the country play a critical role in strategies that NCECA pursues to attract new audiences. When creating programs and opportunities that are relevant to people in teaching situations, they reflect enthusiasm to their students and encourage them to come to the conference. Student Perspectives programming was initiated with the idea of attracting students and engaging them more deeply by providing roles for them as creators and presenters of content. The National Student Juried Exhibition is another way that NCECA accomplishes this. Even in the information age when so much content is available for free, young people today remain motivated to seek out authenticity and real connection to others. Artists working within the field of ceramics tend to make themselves accessible to students. Participation in the conference can facilitate direct connections between students and the artists that are influencing and inspiring them.

How do you keep younger generations engaged and continuing to buy subscriptions? Especially with so much free information that is available nowadays. 

SH: Free is fine; in fact, we love free content. We give away tons of free content, because that is how people find us. When someone gets to the point where they find it worth paying for high-quality, curated, edited media (and everybody gets there sooner or later if they stick with anything for very long), we would like to be who they turn to for ceramic-art information. Students have never really subscribed to magazines—but they don’t stay students. Hobbyists don’t pay for much until they know if they are going to stick with it—and quite a few stick with it. So, our approach to free content is that it’s necessary to make ourselves visible and to prove our worth to those looking for the information we produce. So far, it has paid off, and is the very reason we are able to upgrade and expand into new technologies and new platforms.

 How do you successfully incorporate technology and social network platforms?

JG:  NCECA’s integration of technology and social media have been hugely advanced over the past several years by the work of Communications Director Cindy Bracker, staff member Candice Finn, and members who have been recruited to help us moderate social media platforms with greater consistency, focus and thoughtfulness. Through some of our 50 Friends meetings that take place at conference, we have uncovered ideas and made connections with people like Ben Carter who is helping NCECA to reinvigorate its podcast. With Bobby Silverman of 92Y, we are partnering to identify presenters and promote the Virtual Clay lecture series. Our goal is to forge relationships that help us leverage our content and touch our membership throughout the year, while not having substantially more revenue to hire additional staff. It’s not unlike working through new problems in the studio. We are trying different variations and strategies. We expect that we will have to do some things that are not entirely successful before we get to other things that are. Doing a few things well, will build audience and response. The hope is to extend the sense of community beyond the few short days of the conference.

Across the Table, the project NCECA is undertaking right now under the leadership of Michael Strand and Namita Wiggers is employing technology in innovative ways. An app has been created to gather and share the many engaging ways that people are making and using ceramics and food to impact senses of connection within their communities. It’s a vehicle to tell and share stories about how clay work connects to real life in artful ways. It is also gathering information and images that will be valuable to Michael and Namita’s curatorial process to put together an exhibition. Ultimately it will also serve as a resource where people interested in this kind of work can learn from one another.

 SH:  It’s like you’re reading my mind (or I’m reading yours). At this stage of the game, there is no longer a question of whether or not any given niche market does or does not embrace social media or the digital realm. If you make and sell things, you are in direct competition (read partnership) with social media for your customer’s attention. Our approach to social media is that we need to meet our customers where they are, within reason. We crunch a ton of data, and it tells us that, while we need to be on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, but we perhaps don’t need a tumblr or snapchat account. And honestly, we can’t chase every new meerkat or periscope platform that pops its head up—our analytics tell us where our traffic is coming from, and we go meet them there.

 How do you ideally imagine someone utilizing NCECA as an educational tool? What is your target audience?

JG:  I expect to be surprised by creative people and their use of the information rich collateral that NCECA makes available. During my years with Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild when we brought high school students to conferences, I felt that the richest educational experiences sometimes came out of guided informal interactions. For instance, we created a career exploration project and set an assignment for students to visit with people in the Resource Hall with a set of questions about different study and work paths that they were taking in the field. There is now a good deal of conference content that Cindy and others have worked so hard to make accessible via our blog and YouTube channel to be consumed in homes, dorm rooms, classrooms and studios. I’d like to see more discourse continuing online after the conference about some of the provocative ideas and people that have presented there. While I see this occasionally, it’s not always apparent. Examples of this include Theaster Gates’s inspired performative keynote presentation in 2014 and Roberto Lugo’s Emerging Artist talk in 2015. The videos released of these have garnered followings online as have closing lectures by Malcolm Davis (2011) and Jack Troy (2015). Another less apparent example is the blog bothartistandmother.com, which grew out of a topical discussion and exhibition that took place through recent conferences. The work we are doing with Mark Shapiro on apprenticeships also has this potential. The nature of the digital age is that NCECA can provide a platform that helps to connect people and further develop ideas. Our target audience is shaped by the fact that we are a large conference with a diverse array of programs and exhibitions. It will continue to evolve out of the ideas that are important to members and the extent to which they are meaningful to others.

How do you ideally imagine someone using Ceramics Arts Daily and ceramics publications as an educational tool? What is your target audience?

SH: We didn’t quite envision this as much more than an extension of our existing brands at first, so we thought the existing educational value in the magazines and books is what we would be disseminating. What we learned in very short order was that instructors were telling (sometimes requiring) their students to sign up for Ceramic Arts Daily, and they were using it in the classroom on a regular basis. We see our site registrations, traffic, and time on site jump every year at the end of August for this reason.

Past and Future:

What would be an ideal future project or collaboration?

JG:  In collaboration one is always hoping for a relationship and experience that involves shared vision and enables the partners to reach beyond their own capacities. I don't have a concrete image of what content this will be focused on, in part because there are so many areas where one could focus at this point in time. I am interested in the way that ceramics is emerging in the contemporary art scene and the gulf in perception that still exists between the world of NCECA and society at large. What does it mean for people working with clay and students pursuing creative careers? What can we do to make the creative possibilities and pedagogical concerns of new technologies more accessible to people working across the ceramics continuum? How can we encourage more communities of practice to work through similar ideas in different contexts?

SH: It would be really cool to explore setting up a Potters Council facility for residencies, classes, and exhibitions. This has always been a sort of “pie in the sky” project that is somewhat out of scope right now—but it’s fun to think about.

Where do you see NCECA in 5-10 years, what changes are underfoot?

JG:  We are looking to reform NCECA policies surrounding student status. It appears that more students are going to school part time and over longer periods of time. We need to consider how we can accommodate these shifting norms into our systems, programs and opportunities. We’d like to develop more programs that explore the impact and influence of new technologies, but in a manner that goes beyond what can be addressed in a traditional panel format. We are always on the lookout for inspiring presenters who can connect with genuine passion about ceramics and the world at large—people that can make our work feel even more relevant and impactful to help us envision the future. Concerns about sustainability and changes taking place in education are becoming ever more critical. We are looking for opportunities to engage with these concerns in more meaningful ways. Doing some of these things will require more staff and resources. We need to find ways to make that possible.

 Where do you see Ceramics Monthly in 5-10 years, what changes are underfoot?

SH: I wouldn’t even venture a guess on this, except to say that all of our publications will likely remain in print for a very long time, and that we will continue to tweak the focus and format to be relevant and timely. Very soon (perhaps by the time this goes up) we will have the entire archive of Ceramics Monthly online (as well as Pottery Making Illustrated). This is the kind of thing we will continue to explore and implement as technology and demand warrants it.

 How has your mission changed over the years? And what has influenced its development and change?

JG:  My sense is that while NCECA’s mission may have been revised a few times through strategic plans and board retreats, the organization’s vision has been quite consistent. It’s always been about clay, creation and connection. I don’t imagine those three primary strands of inquiry changing, but perhaps the means through which we will affect them will. Even in the first NCECA Journal published in 1980, we find indications that NCECA aspired to be more than a conference. Some of the changes we have been working on over the past five years have been focused on this aspiration and I expect that to continue.

 SH: Honestly, the core mission of making and distributing very high quality content on ceramic art has never changed, but my own personal involvement with that mission has changed several times, primarily having to do with accepting increasingly more strategic roles related to that content. I became more responsible for the formats and platforms for the content—often times for the very same readers; sometimes you’re on your couch with print, sometimes in the classroom with a laptop and projector, sometimes at the clay supplier with just your phone, sometimes at the office on your desktop or laptop.

Just because we are all engaged in the pursuit of a very well-established tradition does not mean we don’t live in the contemporary world, where we expect to get our information where and how we want at any given moment.

 At this point, my mission is to look forward and make sure we do the right “next thing,” and I trust the day-to-day nuts and bolts of publishing to the very competent editorial, advertising, and production staff.

 What is a memorable conference presentation and why?

JG:  The most memorable conference presentations include compelling ideas and people that are passionate and informed on the matters on which they are speaking. This does not always make them popular when they are being delivered. I think that some of the best and most memorable presentations in NCECA’s history include some that made for discomfort. Over time, NCECA has consistently sought out and welcomed presenters like John Waters, James Elkins, Ron Nagle, Roberta Smith and Theaster Gates who looked at the field critically and challenged our notions about clay, community and the broader culture. From feedback via emails, comments in social media and responses to surveys, we learn that some people want information that they can apply in their daily studio and teaching practice. I think that’s a relevant response to what we are doing within our conferences. That said, I think there are others like me who attend the conference seeking experiences that may be less immediately pragmatic. We are hoping to encounter people and ideas that extend our comfort zones and compel us to look at our practices with fresh viewpoints. NCECA does well when it strikes a balance to address both of these perspectives.

Kelly and Kyle Phelps presenting at the 2014 NCECA Conference.

Kelly and Kyle Phelps presenting at the 2014 NCECA Conference.

 What is a memorable article and why?

SH: This is a completely impossible question—but I have two, and they center around a bit of small controversy as well as professional ethics (the parts that makes them professionally memorable, anyway). One isn’t even an article, really, but an item we published as part of “Exposure,” where we cover current exhibitions. We printed several images from a Beth Cavener exhibition, and one of them was A Rush of Blood to the Head, which depicts two goats with erect human penises kissing each other. I honestly hadn’t thought anything of it at the time, but we had people cancel subscriptions over that. We had letters asking how we could publish this when we know that this magazine is put in front of children. It actually hadn’t dawned on me that someone would show Ceramics Monthly to a child without looking through it first, but I learned a very important lesson about considering our entire audience. I don’t think I would have done anything differently, but I would not have been so surprised at the response.

The other is a review we published about an exhibition at a gallery who was also an advertiser. I’m not going to mention the show or gallery, because those particulars are not really the point. This was at the start of an internal project to get our reviewers to be more conscientious about balance and accuracy in their reviews (not just mentioning the positives). Well, of course, the gallery did not like the review, and as a result, pulled all of their advertising (it was quite a bit). That advertiser has not returned since. It was not a bad review, but it was balanced and had a few actual criticisms. Editorially speaking, we were actually very excited about it; we thought the review was useful and insightful. We just hadn’t considered that there would be this reaction. My takeaway has actually been a very positive one: that we have set up an editorially free staff who are planning and acquiring content in the way they should—for the benefit of the reader first. So I guess part of the reason this sticks with me is because the staff now running the editorial has a good thick skin, and a solid editorial foundation, and they are making better magazines than when I was editor. And that is encouraging.

For more information about NCECA, please visit the following links:












 For more information about the Ceramic Publications Company, please visit the following links: