Amy Lee visits NCECA Cincinnati 2023 - Recap and lessons for next time!

NCECA Recap - Cincinnati, Ohio - 2023

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My first 'full-on people conference' experience since the start of the pandemic happened a little over a week ago in Cincinnati, Ohio. The city I know and love really brought out the red-carpet to the Ceramic Arts throughout the entire city!

Held at the Duke Energy Convention Center
A chilly morning to wake up in an RV at 17F!

I thought it might be helpful - if not just for me, but maybe for others - to offer a recap of my NCECA (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) experience 2023. I'll offer what I chose to do with my time, some tips, and lessons learned below.

Want to jump right into all the photos? CLICK HERE.
You can expand the info button on each picture to learn more and zoom to see artist credits.

A bird's eye view of NCECA 2023's Resource Hall - Vendors, Educational, and Non-Profit Resources
Resources Hall 2023 - NCECA Cincinnati


For those who might not be familiar with NCECA or have never attended an NCECA annual conference. It's a big deal! It's a large conference meets trade-show meets all out gallery expedition not only for those in the ceramic arts, but for those within the city hosting it each year. Cincinnati was exceptional. The central hub of all things NCECA (this year The Duke Energy Convention Center) is the tip of the iceberg for what an NCECA experience can behold. Throughout the entire conference time (and sometimes beyond), the entire city became a mecca of ceramic arts. Simultaneous to the many things to experience at the convention center, the city had all clay spaces, art galleries, many shops and restaurants decked out with ceramic receptions, displays, and functional wares for use. Many of the restaurants in Cincinnati partnered with clay artisans to provide meals served on handmade functional wares. Galleries are filled with shows honoring the ceramic arts (10 receptions for openings on Friday evening alone!). The convention center buzzes with the activity and giveaways in the Resource Hall, the many maker spaces, conference presentations, demonstrations,...the list goes on. Even some clothing, jewelry, and gift shops became a part of the experience hosting artisans and their receptions through the week.

Recap of What I Planned vs. what I Chose to Do (It's a busy week!)

Wednesday Morning - I did arrive early but I did not go to pickup my badge on Tuesday ahead of the Wednesday start of the conference. We have family and friends in Cincinnati so that time was scheduled with them early in the week.

Once getting through the lines my plan was to ease into things with a few am scheduled items in the Projects Space which this year was held on the outskirts of the Resource Hall.

Clay Altar where everyone could leave something special to them.
One of the Project Spaces @clay_altar "Breathe, Connect, Reflection - Clay Altar Space" by Jesus Guizar, Chris Salas, and Sam Shamard. Participants were invited to come and make something with clay to leave at the Altar.

I knew I didn't want to jump right into the Resources Hall because that's a lot of activity for me first thing in the morning and so many people! I also knew I'd be tempted to grab all the freebies which I'd have to carry around for the rest of the I just avoided anything for sale for a bit.

Next I went to a Clay Conversation titled "Does that work need to be fired? - Environmental impact in ceramics." This was a roundtable conversation with many many people who run studios, educational centers, or have their own practices talking about ways to reduce our environmental footprints. You'll likely start to see a theme for the presentations and conversations I attended because I have a BS in  Environmental Science and Geology - so the topics I chose match my own interest areas. There are lots of interest areas to choose from as well as many conversations and presentations happening simultaneously. That's where planning a schedule ahead comes in handy. 

I had planned to attend a Jiggering, Jollying and the Potter co-presentation, but I met some of the folks from the Green Task Force (GTF) which I'm a part of in NCECA and talked with them as well as poked around a little bit in the Resources Hall identifying residency programs for myself as possibilities for the future.

Wednesday Afternoon - I attended "Something for Us, Something for the Earth" a short-form presentation by designer and maker John Dixon and ceramicist/sculptor Miguel Lastra. They built a proof-of-concept kiln with materials sourced mainly from Home Depot for not very much money (receipt in pic doesn't include ceramic fiber or brick used) and were able to go through iterations to get it to function as a kiln that could fire 1 ceramic cup to bisque with usable bio-char (carbon sequestration option when buried in soil) as a byproduct.

Final iteration of an experimental wood-fired kiln. "Something for Us - Something for the Earth" by John Dixon and Miguel Lastra
"Something for Us - Something for the Earth" Making an inexpensive proof-of-concept wood fired kiln with supplies from Home Depot by John Dixon and Miguel Lastra.

I finally allowed myself to peruse a bit more of the Resources Hall, and had a lovely unplanned NCECA magic meeting and talking with a fellow GTF member (Hi Linda from Iowa!) in one of the hallways outside the presentation room. We shared pics of our work, talked about all things environmental - truly a highlight of my entire NCECA experience. It was like an adult-version of summer camp where you make a lasting friend. We went to dinner together along with some other happen-stance and planned encounters. Then we made it back to the convention center for the Wednesday opening ceremonies.

Wednesday Evening - Wednesday is a long first day for NCECA, and I was tempted not to stay for the opening ceremonies. I was so glad I did.

Oh my goodness, the keynote presentation by Rose Simpson was amazing. "Sourced; Inspiration, Innovation, and Material" was the title. Rose talked at an emotional and a maker-level helping us dig much much deeper into the "why" and how this deeply informs the "how". She talked about the evolution of the emotion tied to the powerful works that 'stand and look' after being born into existence. This presentation was so powerful, eloquent, and real that it's one I've already recommended NCECA members be sure to login and catch the replay. I loved Rose's post ceramic efforts in the Auto Body industry - tied in emotionally for me because I was brought-up in an Auto Body business. The El Camino painted to look like famous ceramicist Maria Martinez's iconic work complete with turbo engine and rack of subwoofers - I want to be Rose's friend. I'm so glad I stayed for this presentation live and didn't leave early. 

Rose Simpson provided Keynote speech at NCECA 2023 in Cincinnati Ohio

Rose's El Camino

Work by Rose Simpson, keynote speaker NCECA 2023 Cincinnati Ohio
Images from Rose's Keynote speech at NCECA 2023 - Cincinnati, Ohio

I stayed a bit for the "Randall Session: We at the Wheel" after the keynote too - this is a celebration of all things arts related to ceramics in dance, music, spoken word,...honoring Ted Randall's (1984) artist statement using clay as a metaphor for the future and life we are shaping.

Oops - I should have heeded the warning and arrived earlier to get through security!
Ooops - the security line was quite long Thursday morning. There was another one in the back of the convention center that was really short.

Thursday morning - I planned to check out the Make-In Studio, but the line was so long I changed plans and started to check out some of the Gallery Exhibits in the Resources Hall. The ArtStream presented by Mayco Ceramics is a converted Airstream ceramics gallery that tours the country. This translucent porcelain work by Sandra Torres of California really caught my eye amongst so much eye-candy on the ArtStream:

Example work from ArtStream Gallery - an Airstream converted into a mobile Gallery by Mayco ceramics

You can see a lot more of the gallery works in the Resources Hall in the full album HERE.

The '2022 Emerging Artists' are not quite as "new" to the craft as one might expect in the recognition title; however, it really can be quite a springboard to a ceramicist's career. Their works are amazing - 

By Heidi McKay CastoBy Kate StrachanBy Austen BrantleyBy Deshun PeoplesBy Marissa ChildersBy Jing Huang

Full Album with more of the emerging artist's works, names, and titles  HERE.

Throwing Sh*t! Live was a part of the experience I headed to next. I'm not always nerd-deep into factoids. I wanted something fun to wake me up and I think that's why I put it on my schedule for mid-morning. Diana Adams, Rich Brown, April Adewole, and Stephen Phillips did not disappoint! They have been featured on the Podcasts "Wheel Talk", "The Maker's Playbook", "Potters Cast"  amongst others and allowed the audience to get in on the action. Diana Adams from SampleHAUS brings together Rich Brown and other friends in her studio for some shenanigans, shooting the Sh*t! and living life together with clay. Like a behind the scenes view into their clay family. These are also the voices that kept us all company in our studios during the pandemic.

Throwing Sh*t! Live!
Throwing Sh*t! Live! Where Diana Adams, Rich Brown, April Adewole, and Stephen Phillips - make things and shoot the sh*t - live!

Thursday afternoon - I popped into some of the Ballrooms at the convention center to check out the Demonstrating Artist's. Caught another live podcast taping hosted by Paul Blais of "The Potter's Cast" called "The Business of Clay" where he interviewed Rebecca Ickes Carra from "The Maker's Playbook". Then, I had planned to catch another podcast taping, but skipped out on that plan to do some hoping around. Learning about controlling crystals in crystalline glaze firings became less interesting to me (plus I don't fire this way). I put my name in to win at test kiln and perused a bit more of the Resources Hall.

Will it come home with me? Amy Lee stands with a test kiln in hopes of winning it at NCECA 2023 Cincinnati Ohio

Instead I caught two wonderful shows - one by the University of Illinois and the K-12 show. I headed to a great talk about Sustainable Ceramics - Recycling Waste in Jingdezhen China which was truly enlightening for me. I often think of China as being quite behind when it comes to environmental protections, but it was nice to hear from Chinese nationals Caroline Cheng and Karl Yin who started Yi Design's to figure out some of this waste (on their own! no help from the government on this front). I learned that for every 3 plates purchased in this country at IKEA there is at least 1 disposed of in a pile in China. Much of this ceramic waste gets buried in mountains by the Chinese government. We don't think a lot about the impacts of the purchases we make in this country with regard to the impacts their manufacture may be creating in another country. It was lovely to hear about Caroline's work in China trying to create full circle products that have abilities to be continuously recycled into something new.

Live how-to's all weekend

All week there are ballrooms filled with master's giving all of their secrets - both the how and the why of what they make.
Make-In Studio

Works being made by attendees at the conference in the Make-In Studio.

Southern Illinois University Show Piece by Mary Rhein
A piece by Mary Rhein titled "Skirted Toothy Bowl" from the "Merge: Southern Illinois University show.

A favorite in the K-12 Show
One of my favorites in the K-12 Show!

Friday morning - Scrap all scheduled plans - this unscheduled kiln build and fire by Lisa Orr was one I had to go to at Queen City Clay thanks to a tip from Angela at All Hands Pottery. She knows I'm interested in rocket kilns. She didn't know that I was earlier on Wednesday talking to the brick sellers in the Resource Hall about them. So it was perfect timing. More NCECA magic. I have thought about Rocket Kilns since I lived in Syracuse and went on a green building tour in the Ithaca, NY area somewhere around 2012 I think. The green building tour demonstrated many homes in the area employing 'Masonry Heaters' - beautiful central gigantic fireplaces running from the basement up through the center of all floors of many of the homes on the tour consisting of large amounts of thermal mass, piping, water, pizza ovens, tea warming nooks. They reminded me a lot of the central coal stove that was for cooking and heating in my great grandfather's home. They became a part of my dream-home of my mind (unless I'm living in a warm climate that doesn't need one!). They employ much of the same fuel burning efficiency technologies of rocket-stoves used by many blacksmiths as portable hot burning forges and heat sources for quick warmth. The technology is now being applied to ceramic kilns - and rather amazingly successfully I might add. At Lisa's kiln demonstration - "Uncle Mud" (the orchestrator of this particular kiln build and master of all things mud and permaculture) demonstrated firing this kiln with minimal scrap wood resources hot enough to fire a kiln to over 1900F in about 1.5 hours. I think it took Angela and I about 2-3 handfuls each of wood to fire this thing and there was still wood left over at the end. I'm intrigued. Now to find the time to build one! This was icing on the cake of my NCECA experience - not to mention all of the lovely works on display at Queen City Clay where this firing took place. 

Lisa Orr and "Uncle Mud" demonstrating firing a Rocket Kiln at Queen City Clay.

Out in the cold and Rain - Amy Lee and Angela Lindauer at the Rocket Kiln Demonstration!

This was just one of many many awesome pieces in the multiple galleries at Queen City Clay - that is a dreamy space! Titled: "Malignant (Parentais)" by Francesca Rose - Stoneware - Cone 6 Oxidation.

This is where I needed to remain flexible in my NCECA scheduling experience too - magic.

Friday Afternoon - Back to the convention center to catch "For Flux Sake" podcast taping with Rose and Matt Katz hosted by Harvard's Kathy King. The line for glaze questions stretched out packed room. I tried to get down to the Resources Hall after this to see if I could win a kiln, but I was late. They might have called my name, but I had to be present to win. No worries...lots more to see and shop in the resources hall for the afternoon and lots to learn...then off to grab a quick snack before the evening festivities began.

Wildflowers series by Clayscapes Glazes
The new "Wildflowers" collection of Celadon glazes by Clayscapes Glazes from Jessica Putnam Phillips. All the color possibilities (and translucent)!

Friday Evening - At the suggestion of my new friend, Linda, I purchased the gallery bus tour ticket for the Friday night receptions tours. Friday night there is still a lot to do and see in and around NCECA well after the convention center closes. The tour bus ran in loops around the 9-10 gallery, shop, and show spaces around the city all hosting opening Friday receptions - including entertainment, beverages, and in some cases some food (but get there early the food goes quickly!). There are other reception and gallery tour options Wednesday and Thursday as well. I liked the Friday night tour because it was hop-on hop-off and you could go at your own pace between galleries. At the end of the evening when the busses stopped running, my husband came and chauffeured us all so we were able to see them all! My favorites from the gallery tour included:

"Ripe" - by Colleen Toledano (Kenmore, NY)

This piece drew me in immediately. I thought for sure that the stems, leaves, and strawberries were not made of ceramic. One of the gallery attendants helped me locate the curator who told me all about how it was made. ALL porcelain! Except for 3 acrylic rods running to support the bottom and top structures through the middle. He also told me how surprised he was that the artist from Buffalo, NY - Colleen Toledano, drove it down to Cincinnati basically in a cardboard box. I can relate to not graciously packing works for transport to a gallery. He was amazed how little needed touch-up on delivery prior to installation and commented the level of stress it induced to place the clear box over for protection during display since he was afraid he may break one of the fragile tendrils.

Look in the photo album for video excerpts too! I seriously can be totally sucked into modern art in a video format. I think it's partially being a member of the Max Headroom generation who never had cable (and no MTV! - even though we obviously wanted it!). The Hershorn is one of my favorite art museums in DC as well as the Van Abbe Museum and Philips Museum in Eindhoven, Netherlands. There were several modern art-meets clay video installations that cheered my inner - "how do artist's think of this??!" nerves.

"My Cup Runneth Over (Pink Sock)" by Jeremy Brooks - created by knitting colored porcelain. 

"Crossed Swords (Condoms)" by Jeremy Brooks - they were created by crocheting colored porcelain - yes crocheting. 

These particular pieces by Jeremy Brooks gathered gasps from every ceramic artist who viewed them. Everyone wanted to know how the artist accomplished this. The sock and condoms - made of a specialized ceramic stretchy fiber blend of the artist's creation were knit or crocheted prior to firing. They are no longer flexible in the gallery, but the material use was profound to everyone who viewed these installations. Reading the artists statements was equally profound as Jeremy's recent works talk to sexual identity.

See LOTS more artworks from the Gallery Tour, zoom for artist and title in pics HERE.

Tips and Lessons Learned

Go Pickup Your Badge Tuesday - If possible. It will save you time on Wednesday for other things. The badge printing line was very long first thing Wednesday morning even after getting through the building security line. This is like Disney World - prepare for some lines.

Arrive early each day - and/or - use alternative entrances - In Cincinnati, the main entrance became a huge bottleneck for getting into the convention center due to security in place. Plan for this. There may be a long line to get through security at the main entrance. Vendors, presenters, etc. were able to bypass the line with help from a security attendant. Hopefully this might be one that NCECA figures out for next time.

There is A LOT to do at NCECA! - and you just cannot physically do it all in the timeframe of the conference. One tip I'd offer is - bookend the conference experience with some of the wonderful gallery tour experiences beyond the convention center. Another tip would be - download the app - well ahead of the conference, and update it closer to the conference. Start perusing the scheduled activities and start to develop your own plan or calendar (all available to do inside the app). One caveat here though is to remain flexible. Some of the magic that happens at NCECA is not plan-able.

Volunteer - NCECA offers lots of opportunities for people to volunteer - often with reduced or no conference fees. It's a great way to meet people in your area of interest too.

Projects Spaces - these are spaces in the convention center where artists have been selected to create a live project installation. They usually are running throughout the entire conference and can be engaged with as much or as little as desired.

Resources Hall - This is the space designated as trade-show vendor spaces, schools, teaching centers, non-profits, & some gallery spaces. There is a lot going on in here, but it's organized by vendors vs. everything else. It's an open all-day each day space and a great gap-filler location.

Conversations - are exactly that - roundtable discussions led by the description artists to solve problems, share information, and create community. I highly recommend attending some of these in an NCECA experience. Pick one that speaks to you and go meet lots of other people thinking or doing similar things!

Short-form presentations - I was confused by this as were many others who tried to attend one of the short-form presentations. If you see this listed in the app - it means that there will be multiple short form presentations in the allotted time. We all got up and left the beginning of a presentation thinking we were in the wrong room only to find out we only needed to wait 10 minutes and the topic of interest would be presented.

Plan breaks - plan breaks for meals or snacks, bring a water bottle to hydrate, and give grace to oneself when you just need to take a break from the action. It's a lot. NCECA is a huge amazing playground for those who love the clay arts and you will be in a dream land. The sights, sounds, content - all are a lot to take in. It might be a good idea to plan a break at the Make-In Studio.

Make-In Studio - this was new for NCECA this year. I hope they do it again. It's a place to play with clay. ALL tools are there to try. Many clay types. Workspace tables, wheels, slab rollers - you name it. And shelves to put your finished works (they stay there - I'm not sure what happens to them after the conference?)

Go to the Opening Ceremonies Keynote! - This is the speaker chosen by many of your peers as THE person to listen to. I'm so glad I went.

Leave time for the unexpected - Meet new people, say yes to things unplanned. It's all a part of the experience.

Take a Gallery Tour/Reception Bus - Again you will meet so many people and see so much eye candy at all of the galleries on the tour - so worth it!

To photo or not to photo? - I took photos this NCECA. Would I the next? - probably not. I'd probably just buy the gallery guides NCECA puts out. Their photos are so much better and it would allow more time to just experience the works.

Forge your own path - I'd suggest if heading to NCECA with a group of friends or colleagues - if at all possible agree to go your separate ways and meet up for meals or special events. There is so much to do, see, learn, and experience, that there are bound to be overlaps - after all it's all clay friends here.

Be pliable like clay  - A lot of NCECA magic can happen in the cracks!

Stay for Saturday events and perhaps beyond - Saturday is when the emerging artist's give their keynotes, galleries are open, and the city hosting NCECA is alive for experiencing. Town hall style meetings also take place where organizational member voting occurs and inputs are gathered from the city hosts. I do wish I had stayed for some of this; however, NCECA was the end of a 2.5 month RV excursion for us and we had planned to drive home - plus we visit Cincinnati several times a year usually.

FOMO is real! - There were a couple times during the week where FOMO started kicking in. Once I gave into the pliable magic that is NCECA there were no worries. This NCECA certainly jazzed me up both emotionally, mentally, creatively, and scientifically for the next. I already am mulling ideas for a presentation proposal for NCECA 2024 in Richmond - due by early May!

Take pics with new friends! Or better yet - plan to go visit them on the next RV tour!

Go into the closed curtained gallery - I don't have pics shared from the gallery show titled "Obscene" because my website is all ages friendly and some parents wouldn't want their children seeing these particular pieces. Do go behind the curtain!

If you will be going to Richmond's NCECA 2024 - let me know! Drop a comment or email with any questions, etc. Look forward to seeing you at next year's NCECA!

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Comments (1)

Jo - Mar 27, 2023

This was a well written and insightful piece. I felt like I was there with you. Think I am going to look up Throwing Sh*t podcast. Wow! On that sock and condoms by Jeremy Brooks. Who knew that you could crochet clay? My takeaway from your article is to approach NCECA like you would a piece of art, with intention but leave room for intuition. Clay is magical!!! Thanks Amy.

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