For Wisconsin art fans, this is the month to make hay with clay.
Ceramics are making a star appearance across the Madison area in March — in museums, galleries, studios and schools — all in hopes of drawing a clay-crazed audience from around the world.
The idea is to lure some of the 4,500 artists and teachers descending upon Milwaukee to attend the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts conference, held March 19-22.
Billed as “the world’s largest event held in the field of ceramic arts,” the NCECA (nicknamed “en-SEE-ka”) gathering takes place annually, each year in a different city. The event spawns a sort of “clay tourism” throughout its host region — and Madison is not standing by.
“There’s going to be more clay shown in Madison than I think at any other time — ever,” said artist Andree Valley, who teaches ceramics at Madison Area Technical College.
Adamah Clay Studios, located on the Art Ventures Campus of Bethel Horizons in rural Dodgeville, is using the opportunity to host “blockbuster” workshops and bring attention to its growing arts education and retreat center.
“We’re tying in to the momentum of the Milwaukee conference,” said Art Ventures director Jennifer Mally. “We are really gathering people from all over the country.”
Madison curators and gallery owners are molding their own creative response. Higher Fire Clay Studio, 2132 Regent St., will showcase sculptural ceramic tiles from March 12 to April 5. HYART Gallery, 133 W. Johnson St., is hosting a light-hearted “2014 Ceramic World Cup Tournament” from Monday through March 22, with a vote on Facebook determining the winner.
Among Valley’s “must-sees” in the area this month are upcoming shows at Edgewood College, featuring works from the Bindley Ceramics Collection. The show will add to “a great historical overview of 20th-century ceramics from Europe, Japan and the United States,” she said. Another recommendation is the MATC show that Valley is curating featuring ceramics by many great living artists, from a private collection.
Dozens of local artists will have work on view in galleries, clay studios, art centers and even high schools across the region, as well.
“This is a chance for everybody to see almost everything you can see in ceramics,” Valley said. “Between the two collections and a lot of the local artists who are showing, it will really be a good overview of what the ceramic arts are and what they do. Everything — from functional to sculptural to installation — will be there.”
In all, the 2014 NCECA conference has spawned well over 80 ceramics exhibits statewide — including dozens in Milwaukee, but also stretching from Sheboygan and Racine to Platteville, Paoli and Mineral Point.
“There could be a show that is 100 miles away from the conference city, but as people are driving in or leaving, they’ll stop to see those shows,” said Dori Nielsen, conference director at NCECA’s national office in Erie, Colo. “It’s just really important for them to experience other artists’ work. So the exhibitions are extremely popular.”
All the exhibits are open to the public and listed under the “conference” tab on the website nceca.net.
It’s significant that NCECA’s 48th annual gathering will be in Wisconsin because of the state’s important historical role, said UW-Madison art professor Paul Sacaridiz.
“Wisconsin is a really important state in terms of ceramics,” said Sacaridiz, an NCECA board member and on-site coordinator for the Milwaukee event.
“We have a really rich tradition, specifically in terms of utilitarian ceramics. We have a rich wood-firing tradition, and it goes far back. It has extended to this day, with a lot of very significant people working throughout the state. That doesn’t exist everywhere.”
Sacaridiz calls the pre-conference workshops to be held at Dodgeville’s Adamah Clay Studios “extraordinary.” Called “Adamah On Fire,” the on-site instruction will be led by famed ceramic artists Ching-Yuan Chang of Taiwan, and Americans Joy Brown and Ken Bichell.
Participants also will get a tour of studios in the Mineral Point area and transportation to the NCECA conference.
Registration for “Adamah On Fire” is open to ceramic artists of any skill level.
“We’ve tended to attract people who have taken ceramics into their life very seriously” — including several from the East and West coasts, Mally said.
The hope is that the workshops will further raise Adamah’s profile in the art world. The clay studio provides residential workshops year-round and is quickly growing; later this year, it plans to open a new retreat center and expand its class offerings to include painting, printmaking, drawing, papermaking and bead-making.
“I think,” said Mally, “NCECA will help us on our growing curve.”