The Journal Gazette
Thursday, September 12, 2019 1:00 am

Putting clay in spotlight

Conference, exhibit focused on serving ceramic community

COREY MCMAKEN | The Journal Gazette

Indiana clay artists are in the spotlight with a new exhibition and upcoming gathering at Purdue University Fort Wayne.

The State of Clay in Indiana exhibit is being shown in conjunction with the Indiana Potters Conference next month. The exhibit, which opened Aug. 26, runs through Oct. 11 in the Visual Arts Gallery.

Seth Green, assistant professor of ceramics, says the exhibit is a cross-section of ceramic art in the state. It includes students and established artists selected by juror Ted Neal of Ball State University, as well as pieces from several artists outside the state that are involved in the conference as presenters and panelists.

Green and fellow conference organizer Justin Rothshank also have work in the show.

The conference, which takes place Oct. 4 and 5, will feature live demonstrations by established clay artists from the U.S. and Canada and a panel discussion about the Indiana clay community. A keynote address by Malcolm Mobutu Smith of Indiana University will touch on building that community in the state.

“The main part of the conference is to start building a network and a community of ceramic artists in the state,” Green says.

Though the conference will be biannual, the network will exist to help the ceramic community all the time. People can connect about upcoming exhibitions, visiting artists, collaborations and more. It isn't just for people working in academia, Green says, but studio artists and art centers will also benefit.

“This state conference model is something that happens really successfully in other states,” Green says, pointing to programs in North Carolina, Alabama and Michigan. He lived in Michigan and was a speaker at the 2010 conference when he was just out of graduate school, so he says he has a vision for what the Indiana conference can be.

The exhibition and conference are part of Green's project for the PFW Leadership Academy. As part of the program, each participant must complete a project that exhibits leadership abilities.

Green believes that one of the most important things an artist can do is build connections with other artists, which opens up opportunities for them to show their work, get jobs and otherwise grow their career.

“Ceramic art is a pretty community-oriented group of people,” he says. “I think one of the main reasons that is is because we rely on each other to help each other fire our kilns.”

For example, PFW has a wood kiln (among several others). It takes more than two days of constantly stoking wood, which one person could not do alone. Green gets help from his students and other artists.

Connecting with other artists is just the start of what a conference and network can offer, Green says. Statewide networks help artists gain exposure with lawmakers and can promote ceramic art on a larger scale.

The conference is also a great opportunity for students to rub shoulders with established ceramic artists, Green says. Several of the attendees are with universities that have MFA programs and other artists can impart knowledge from their own careers. Artists may know of apprenticeship or internship opportunities for students as well.

Katherine Gaff is one of two PFW students whose work was selected for the exhibition. She also helped Green set up the exhibition, gaining gallery coordination experience such as unpacking the work and creating the display tags.

“It's a lot of amazing artists and potters (in the exhibition), and I got to handle all that work and then I get to meet them at the potters conference and watch them demo,” she says. “I'm super excited.”

The conference will serve in part as an organizational meeting to help define what the network will entail – and even what it will be called.

Two more conferences are planned, though the name will likely switch from the Indiana Potters Conference to something that better reflects that it includes other types of ceramic artists. In two years, it will take place at Indiana University and in four years it will be outside an academic setting at a site hosted by AMACO Brent, an Indianapolis-based ceramics supplier who is among sponsors of the conference.

Green and Rothshank will remain organizers going forward, but conferences will be coordinated by different hosts. Rothshank of Goshen is also an organizer for the Michiana Pottery Tour on Sept. 28 and 29, which is cross-promoting with the conference.

The conference is not open to the public, but a gallery reception, including artists from the exhibition and conference, will take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 4. The public is welcome at the reception, which will be a sort of an open house of the PFW ceramics program with additional student work on display.

If you go

What: State of Clay in Indiana

Where: Visual Arts Gallery, 2101 Coliseum Blvd. E.

When: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends through Oct. 11

Admission: Free

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