NCECA report with lots of name dropping:

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig. This is one of those nights when

morning seems like a week ago, and the last few days feel like a movie I

watched, or an epic dream full of exotic people, bewildering escalators

and hallway-mazes. I suppose it will all process, over the next few

days, and seem more real.

If I had a memory-tag to distinguish this NCECA from the others, it

would be “the year I was really tired and not much fun, but learned a

lot”. I am sure there are some bleary-eyed digital photos of me out

there, lest you think I exaggerate. (I’ve been accused of exaggerating

sometimes. Can you IMAGINE?)

Wednesday night, as the arriving clayarters met in KY, I was at a

spelling bee in Toledo. My 13 year old son tied for 7th place in the

regional. We’re all proud that he did so well, and quietly relieved that

he didn’t win, so we don’t have to figure out how to schedule/budget in

a trip to DC’s nationals.

He correctly spelled vendetta, sputnik, precipitate, matriarch, and

egalitarian, and finally went out on zephyr. He’s the redhead in photos

number 1 and 4 at

We celebrated afterward, then took the kids home to bed. Just before

midnight, Jeff drove me to the Greyhound bus station in an especially

blighted part of downtown Toledo. I got the last available seat on a

very crowded bus. Having forgotten to bring earplugs, I spent 7 hours

bouncing and jolting, pretending to sleep, on a seat designed by some

sadist, with the bus heater stuck “on” (it was 86 degrees, no lie). I

got no more sleep than my fellow passengers (3 to 5 crying babies,

Charlie Manson’s twin brother, some tubercular coughers, a few prison

transfers, and a variety of bored, arguing, crabby, malodorous, drunk or

otherwise unhappy people). I know some did manage to sleep, because the

stereo snoring almost drowned out the “whack-SNAP!” of the windshield

wipers and the seven hour cell phone conversation of the bus driver.

I promised myself that if, for some reason, my ride home with EMU grad

students fell through, I would just get an apartment in Louisville. I’d

find a job, call Jeff, and say “Raise the kids without me, I can’t make

myself take a bus home.”

I arrived in the dark at 6am Thursday, rolled my suitcase into the Galt

House lobby and was amazed to find Mark Issenberg and Alisa from Denmark

awake (at that freakish hour? I’ll never understand people!) I got to

the room to find Stephani Stephenson just crawling out of bed to shower,

so I flopped face down onto her still warm pillow and slept for the

entire three days of the conference.

OK, well not really.

Due to the miracle of strong coffee, I managed to get to Marcia Selsor

and Stephani S’s lecture/slide presentation on Moorish tiles, which was

an eyefull and had lots
of interesting information as well. I made it to

a panel discussion on wood firing in an educational environment, by our

own rockin’ Karen Terpstra, a guy named Casey Clark, and Tony Clennell’s

prof from Utah, John Neely. (I managed to have a nice chat with him, and

get the scoop on hard-working Tony, who was badly missed this year!)

Lana Wilson was one of the presenters for a wonderful panel discussion

on balancing family and pottery. (Janis Mars Wunderlich, Adam Posnak and

Lee Puffer.) It was heartening to hear from moms and a dad who were

either working as studio artists or struggling through grad school

despite several head o’ children, and insane schedule conflicts. We saw

slides of babies and pots, and I heard some observations that made me

want to stand up and shout, “AMEN!”

1.) It’s easy to overcompensate. We can get so guilted out about the

possibility of falling short in either endeavor that we overdo on both

counts. Thus far, this had been my plan. There are days when I am

Mary-freakin’-poppins all morning at home, and then

potterwoman-on-steroids at school. Whether one can maintain this pace

for any period of time, though, is not yet clear. Stay tuned for nervous

breakdown, schedule to be announced.

2.) You’re gonna miss stuff, so get over it. I can’t watch Molly do

gymnastics, because it’s my class night; the fam left for vacation a

week before me, because I was at school; my few local friends think I

was abducted by aliens last september. Meanwhile the grad students work

on weekends without me, go to gallery openings on campus, and plan for

firings while I am home doing laundry and helping with algebra.

3.) This is the good news: potterparents can develop the ability to use

time in a very efficient manner. This isn’t necessarily a corporate,

productive notion: sometimes it can mean lying on the kitchen floor

making blue playdoh corrals for a child’s yellow playdoh horses and

making up stories about them. But one of the moms pointed out that you

learn not to waste time on things that don’t matter. Whatever you are

doing in your studio, it had damned well better be as important as your

kid. And when you’re with your family instead of getting things done in

the studio, you don’t take family time for granted. (In my life, TV is

not as valuable as pots or kids so it just doesn’t get a turn.)

One mom said, “I worried that I couldn’t keep up with the young, single,

childless students who could be there all the time. But some mornings

they would come in, make coffee, listen to NPR, hang around and wait to

get into work mode. Me, I was paying $8 an hour for a babysitter, so I

hit the ground running and got my money’s worth.”

Diana was at NCECA, of course, and so were many of the EMU grad students

I have come to think of as friends, family and sounding board. The

glamorous Reem from Libya is only weeks away from giving birth to baby

Selma. Joanne and Nancy were there, along with another Kelly I hadn’t

met yet. Patrick was truly missed, and next year will be hog-tied,

thrown in the trunk and brought along, other responsibilities or no.

It was weird and wonderful to have the grad students stop by the clayart

room and meet my other “family”. It was like the in laws meeting the

parents (when each group has heard tales about the other.) At least two

of the girls from EMU are going to join clayart now, and will join us in

the clayart room at NCECA next year.

The mug exchange went smoothly, and I would mention here whose lovely

piece I got, except I think it would be unbecoming of me. In fact, I can

hardly imagine gloating, or in any way acting smug about my good luck in

such a situation. It would be really shallow and immature. Don’t you


The “La Mesa” show of tableware was a wonderful opportunity to talk

about what we loved and hated and why, and I tend to survey everybody

about that lately.

Lee Burningham was everywhere with his clay crew of Utah high school


Billie and Nan outdid themselves with the clayart show at Gallery

Jojobe. (I finally saw it today… I missed the opening, due to the

greyhound bus from hell.)

I had wonderful dinners with wonderful people. One meal included my prof

(Diana Pancioli) and my first throwing instructor (Mel). They are both

big hearted, hard headed teacher types, who (like good parents) take

good care of me, but also call me on my bullshit.

Last night (was it just last night?) a bunch of us ended up at a Persian

restaurant called Saffron, where the food was delightful. I got to spend

some time blathering at David McBeth, the former teacher of my best

mfa-bud and sometimes-roomie Patrick Green. Jaqui from Wales tells nice

stories, and I sat across from another clayarter whose name I won’t

mention, (coughchriscampbellcough) since folks will accuse me of

gloating about getting her cup at the mug exchange. That would just be


It’s hard to see people so briefly, and not have time to really

reconnect. My cliff-jumping buddies from Appalachian Center for Craft

are graduating and moving on to jobs and adventures, full of energy and

new ideas (and youth! sigh…) A lot of clayarters get a hug and then

the days are gone and there was never time to talk. People get on planes

and into taxis and disappear, before you can find them to say goodbye. I

wandered around today thinking, “Damn! I never got to talk to…(fill in

several blanks here.)” And now it will have to wait until next year. A

LOT of people were missing altogether, and there are always new faces

(to me, anyway.) One elusive one I wanted to meet, but only spotted in


I missed a lot this year, unlike past years when I felt I had to do

EVERYTHING. I missed our clayarters’ too-early friday panels, though

they got great reviews. I never found the cup sale, and brought my sorry

cup home. I missed the bluegrass music at the Randall session, I missed

the day of bus tours, I missed the keynote lecture on the role of craft

(Diana said it was good.) There was no wench-dressing this year. I only

wandered down to the dance briefly and late, and for the first time in

all of life, just sat and watched. I was too pooped to dance.

But I am learning to accept that every choice un-chooses something else,

and that some things are missable. Instead of being in one place

thinking, “uh-oh, I’m missing the other option!”, I kind of settle into

the moment. Yeah, I know I’m late and headed to the emerging artist

slides, but right now it feels good to stand in the lobby and gossip

with Edith Franklin. Be here, now.

I had every intention of sleeping at night, but conversations in the

dark ranged from MFAs to life histories to clay philosophies. And of

course there is that point when you get very, very tired and stupid

things become incredibly funny. The pre-dawn morning when I arrived, and

then again on wednesday night, the room was so dark when I tiptoed in,

that mystery roomie Kerry Brooks (of Dock 6) was just a dark lump under

the covers of her bed. Though we ended up in an all night bull session,

she was an early riser and I never knew what she actually looked like

until I met her in broad daylight Friday afternoon! Kerry, thanks for

bringing snacks, but those mini marshmallows were really stale. (What do

you mean, they were earplugs?)

Over all, it was a very goal-focused NCECA for me, more info-seeking

this year than social party. What I am hungry for these days is a wider

context for critical conversation about pots. As skilled as I have

become at “Diana would say”, when it comes to looking at pottery, I have

a million questions in the back of my mind during critiques.

How much of what my prof says is considered true by general concensus,

and how much a matter of individual taste?

How much is her aesthetic influenced by Alfred, by the crits of her own

teachers, by her biases?

What might another prof say about the same pot? (My worst illogical fear

is that they might disagree on every point, and thus “good pottery”

really IS completely subjective.)

So I could not have had happier luck than I did today. The place was an

abandoned Louisville stoneware factory that has been transformed into

studio space, gallery space and shops. The show we students went to see

with our prof was the one with bourbon bottles, and a lot of other

nceca-chosen work.. and across the way, a student/faculty show from area


I moved from pedestal to pedestal, just taking it in and measuring my

reactions. There are layers: gut reaction (wow! or eeewwww!) — then

cerebral reaction (speculation: how was it made, fired, glazed?) and the

inevitable crit, “WWDS? (what would Diana say?) This time, though, she

was nearby enough to ask.

Later, I looked up and saw three potters whose skills I respect — Vince

Pitelka, David Hendley and Dave McBeth — walking into the gallery. Now,

I am way too grown up to have heroes, but I can’t help myself. I was

always the little kid with a half-crush on teacher, the gushing geek

asking authors for autographs, the fan in the front row at concerts.

While these three guys feel like friends, I think they are impressively

smart.. and today, they could help me settle in my own mind those

questions about what makes a good pot, and who says so.

So I learned. I followed, watched them reach out and r
ock a boat-bowl or

casserole with a warped bottom, tsk over an ill fitting lid, or make

happy sounds about a nice form. I started following them around like an

annoying little sister, interrogating. You said you like this. Why? You

don’t like this. Why not?

Some combination of the three-profs-and-one-real-studio-potter went from

pot to pot, talking about what works and what doesn’t, what’s strong and

weak, what you forgive and what you can’t.

I was both enlightened and reassured to discover that these guys — from

different regions, academic-or-not traditions, and experiences — said

mostly the same things MY prof would have said. While they had different

tastes and favorites, and disagreed over nuances, a flaw was still a

flaw in everybody’s book.

Next month (on Friday the 13th) at Eastern, I have my mid program

review. I will have to defend my MFA progress thus far to a committee of

art department profs, present and defend an artist’s statement, and

justify my qualifications to continue and complete MFA next year. I’ve

been nervous about it, especially since there are no potters/ceramics

profs on the committee.

Today, though, made up for it. I have spent the better part of a year

trying to see what makes pots good or bad, and in order to see it, I

have had to learn to put it to words. Diana speaks fluent critique, and

I am at the phrase book stage. Today was kind of a breakthrough for me,

to be in a group of people who are fluent in the language of “why” when

it comes to pots. I’m thinking of this afternoon as a meeting with my

dream team MFA committee, all potters with a good eye and a willingness

to talk about pots. I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to sic them on my

pots yet.

The long drive home with the EMU girls was a perfect wind-down. The

first few hours’ were for NCECA post-game summary and commentary, and

the last few hours were plans for upcoming firings and projects, pots

and installations. Dannon, you were right… I needed this! How a four

day span can simultaneously drain your body and recharge your soul is

just a wonder.

Now it’s 3am, again, and I will never catch up on sleep. I trust that

clayarters are for the most part safe at home, that the freezing rain in

the East won’t strand Alisa forever, that somebody will post NCECA pix

for us to enjoy with morning coffee.

May the folks who offered stories, hugs, beers, tips, meals, advice,

jelly beans, support, cookies, directions, pots, a patient ear, and

other generosities — (with me, or with anybody) — know they are good

souls and deserve whatever blessings Karma brings their way.

(My very tired version of “I love you guys”…)


Kelly, back in Ohio, with kids who missed me, and an appreciative



Next post: