With Massive Ceramics Convention In Town, Kansas Citians' Minds Will Be Blown By Clay

Mar 4, 2016

Gallery-goers will see clay everywhere this month, with exhibition spaces welcoming more than 5,000 ceramics artists, students, teachers and fans who’ll arrive in Kansas City for the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, March 16-19.

This might feel a little overwhelming for casual First Friday attendees.

“They’ll find out what they thought they knew about clay was nothing,” says Mo Dickens, the gregarious gallery assistant for the Belger Arts Center and the Belger Crane Yard Studios. “One reporter wrote me and said, ‘With this conference in town I need to know what makes a good pot.’ I started showing them Rain Harris’s gigantic installation and Nathan Mabry’s large-scale sculpture.”

Dickens counts 100 NCECA-related exhibitions between Sedalia and Lawrence. “We’ve got 10 just between the Belger buildings,” he says.

Kansas City Art Institute Ceramics Chair Cary Esser with Nathan Mabry's 1998 ceramic gun, one of the pieces in 'Every Semester: Collecting KCAI Ceramics 1995-2015' exhibition at the Belger Arts Center.
Credit Courtesy Belger Arts Center

We asked Dickens for his First Friday recommendations because he appears to be the city’s biggest NCECA booster. (That’s not just because he’s married to Cary Esser, chair of the Kansas City Art Institute’s Ceramics Department. “I owe my career to NCECA,” he says. The last time the conference was held in Kansas City, in 2002, Esser curated an exhibition at the Belger; that was his first exposure to the collection, and after two years of bringing Art Institute students there for tours, he was offered his current job there.)

Besides the Belger shows and Unconventional Clay: Engaged in Change, at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Dickens suggested the three shows at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center (a partial listing of NCECA-related exhibitions is below). Dickens also recommended making a trip to the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art in Sedalia.

“Dr. Daum used to collect the big pieces that most collectors don’t have room to store,” he says. “Most collectors are not looking for giant installation pieces, but he bought really significant pieces of art. It’s an hour’s drive but it’s worth it. The current show is gorgeous. Quite a few Kansas Citians are in it. It’s a national collection, but our region is very well-represented.”

Here's a small sample of what's open this weekend. Several other exhibitions open later in the month to coincide with the conference (a full listing of NCECA-related exhibitions is available on the organization’s website):

Belger Arts Center
2100 Walnut St, Kansas City, MO 816-474-3250
The Garden Party, Kim Dickey, Rain Harris, Jessica Knapp, Kyle Triplett, Casey Whittier, who utilize ceramics to explore themes associated with nature and flora. Curated by Michael Baxley; organized by Rain Harris.
DESIRE, 35 participants of the Lighton International Exchange Program express their personal definition of Desire. Curated by Linda Lighton.
• Every Semester: Collecting KCAI 1995-2015 Ceramics, Ken Ferguson, Victor Babu, George Timock, Cary Esser, Jane Shellenbarger, Paul Donnelly, Paul Smith. The exhibition features ceramic work from Kansas City Art Institute tenured faculty members and “end of semester” student sales collected by regional private collections since 1995. Organized by Cary Esser.

Kansas City Art Institute student Leah Nelson (left) assists Rain Harris (inside the frame) with 'Tulpenwoede,' a new sculpture by Harris and Kyle Triplett, part of the 'Garden Party' exhibits at the Belger Arts Center.
Credit Courtesy Belger Arts Center

• Role Models, Nick Abrami, Pavel Amromin, Patti Warashina, Jonathan Barnes, Jeff Brown, Seth Charles, Bede Clarke, Ron Dale, Elizabeth Didonna, Trevor Dunn and others; 17 artists showcasing their mentor as well as one person to whom they’ve mentored. Organized by the Morean Art Center.

Belger Crane Yard Studios
2011 Tracy Ave, Kansas City, Missouri, 816-474-7316
Decalcomaniacs, Brian Boldon, Pattie Chalmers, Rain Harris, Wesley Harvey, Meredith Host, Melissa Mencini, Mariko Paterson, Justin Rothshank, Colleen Toledano and more. An exhibition focusing on the impact of decalomania on 14 artists who employ decals in their commercial and custom work. Organized by Jeremy R. Brooks.
• Home Base: Exhibition of Red Star Studios Members, Al King, Nancy Bean, Kelly Finn, Margi Posten, Beth Parker, Mary Kay Porter, Dan Altnether, Merredeth Viker, Jessica Thompson-Lee, Jeff Crowe and more. An exhibition celebrating eighteen years bringing together hobbyists and professional artists to create the dynamic Red Star Studios community. Curated by Tommy Frank.
Alumni Gathering: Red Star Studios Past and Current Artists-in-Residence, Jessica Brandl, Conner Burns, Andrew Gilliatt, Michael Fujita, Jamie Bates Slone, Christina Erives, Jana Evans, Hiromi Iyoda, Emily Duke, Brice Dyer and more. In celebration of Red Star Studios 17th year of Artists-in-Residences. Curated by Tommy Frank.
Objectify Beth Cavener, Peregrine Honig, Jenny Kindler, and Lindsay Pichaske. This exhibition explores artists using the animal figure as a metaphor for social, political, and environmental issues. Curated by Michael Baxley.
The Kansas City Connection, Victor Babu, John Balistreri, Chris Gustin, and Matt Long, John Balistreri, Chris Gustin and Matt Long honor their Mentor, Victor Babu, in an exhibition of new works. Organized by Matt Long.

H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute
16 East 43rd St, Kansas City, Missouri, 816-802-3571
Simone Leigh. Influenced by feminism, African art, and ethnographic research, Simone Leigh creates ceramic-based multimedia sculpture and installation, video, and performance works that fuse her interests in race and identity, labor and history, place, and craft. Curated by Raechell Smith.

'Unraveled (Suspicion)' by Gabrielle Graber, one of the students in NCECA's National Student Juried Exhibition at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center.
Credit Courtesy NCECA

Leedy-Voulkos Art Center
2012 Baltimore Ave, Kansas City, Missouri, 816-474-1919
NCECA 2016 National Student Juried Exhibition showcases the work of more than 50 current graduate, undergraduate, and post-baccalaureate students across the United States. Juried by Liz Quackenbush and Lee Somers.
NCECA Shapers of the Field: NCECA Honors and Fellows recognizes more than 50 artists, educators, and those providing exemplary service to the field. It reflects the evolution of the ceramic arts over several decades, and includes functional pottery, decorative vessels, and sculpture, incorporating a wide range of technique, concepts, scale, and visual imagery.
NCECA 2016 Emerging Artists Exhibition, Joanna Poag, Kyungmin Park, Peter Morgan, Tom Jaszczak, Kwok Pong Tso, Sean O'Connell. Selected by renowned artists Eva Kwong and Jim Melchert with NCECA Board Member Jane Shellenbarger, exhibition highlights recent works by artists expanding the contemporary field.

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
4525 Oak St, Kansas City, MO 816-751-1278
NCECA Unconventional Clay: Engaged in Change, an exhibition that explores connections between art, social issues and process in contemporary ceramics. Twenty four participating artists respond to contemporary issues while employing innovative approaches to the medium. The exhibition is co-curated by NCECA Exhibitions Director Leigh Taylor Mickelson and Catherine Futter, the Helen Jane and R. Hugh “Pat” Uhlmann Senior Curator of Architecture, Design and Decorative Arts at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art
2004 Baltimore Ave, Kansas City, MO 816-221-2626
The Once and Future: New Now, Jun Kaneko, John Balistreri, Chris Gustin, Cary Esser, Steven Lee, Misty Gamble, George Timock, Rain Harris, Richard Notkin, Nathan Prouty among others, reflects the relationship between makers and mentors as traces of shared DNA mutate and transform with each generation into the unexpected aesthetics of today. Curated by Sherry Leedy.

C.J. Janovy is an arts reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.