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long post - my own nceca experience

updated mon 22 mar 04


Vince Pitelka on sat 20 mar 04

There will be lots of posts about NCECA, and I probably cannot add that =
much, because I spent most of the conference chained to my table in the =
exhibition hall. But that was where I wanted to be, because I am =
excited about everything going on at the Craft Center right now, and it =
was a pleasure sharing this information with others. As always, I =
enjoyed talking to the public, networking with other workshop centers =
and academic programs, and recruiting students for the academic program =
and participants and presenters for the workshops. =20

And of course it was a great pleasure hanging out in the Clayart room =
with so many friends from all over the country. As always, among the =
high points were the dinners with big groups of people. First night - =
Alcatraz Brew Pub - okay food, excellent beer. Second night - the =
sports bar in the Marriot - okay food, okay beer, too damn much noise. =
You would think that with a crowd of potters in the place they would =
have had the good sense to turn down the damn deafening sports =
broadcasts on the many TV sets. Third night - Rathskeller German =
Restaurant - excellent food, excellent beer, wonderful atmosphere, live =
blues band. Fourth night, the ClayTimes dinner at St. Elmo Steak House, =
which has been in business for 100 years. It is something of an =
Indianapolis institution. I do not eat much beef, but if your gonna do =
it, at least it is nice to get good meat. This was the best prime rib I =
have had. Their standard cut is 32 ounces, which is a little obscene. =
Fortunately I had a fridge in the hotel room, so I was able to save the =
remains and put them to good use today. I've had my quota of beef for =
the month. =20

The Claytimes dinner was a real treat - it included Polly Beach and the =
Claytimes staff, plus Bill van Gilder, John Hesselberth and his wife, =
Marc Ward and his wife Kathy Wing, Bill Hunt and his wife, David =
Hendley, Tony Clennell, John Singer, and myself. I hope I didn't leave =
anyone out. I shot a ton of pictures, and I will try to get them on to =
my website at some point. Things are busy, so it may take me a while to =
get around to that. =20

Mel was in top form at the conference. Mel is but a shadow of his =
former self, having lost 75 pounds since last year. He is in great =
shape, and his book is a pure pleasure. It looked like they were =
selling like hotcakes out of the ACerS booth and the Axner booth. I got =
my signed copy, and there weren't any ticks on it at all. We all love =
reading Mel's stories on Clayart, and now you have the opportunity to =
read those stories with ACTUAL CAPITAL LETTERS in all the appropriate =
places! There is a great deal of sound wisdom in this book.=20

I think that our friend Phil Poburka might be in a state of shock right =
now. His booth was mobbed for the entire conference. It is evident =
that word is really getting around about his remarkable handmade carbide =
trimming tools, and it seemed that everyone was anxious to shove =
handfulls of money at him. =20

There were three competing groups selling Chinese clay tools, including =
all those wonderful ribs, modeling tools, and shaping/forming tools made =
from water buffalo horn. I bought so many tools I can't even remember =
what's in those bags. I'll wait a few days to unpack that stuff, and it =
will be a nice surprise. =20

There were some wonderful new products on display, especially Bracker's =
neat little sink trap, which screws on in place of a normal existing =
J-pipe trap in any sink (although the reservoir on the trap does seem =
undersized), and CI's new "Cink" - a self-contained portable sink on a =
cart, with reservoir/traps and a recirculating pump. I have been =
thinking about devoting one of my Claytimes columns every year to new =
products, and some of these items are providing further incentive to do =
that. =20

One of my new students this spring has a Shimpo Whisper wheel, and when =
I first saw it I was fascinated to find that this wheel is direct-drive, =
with no transmission and no belts. A cover on the bottom prevented me =
from seing the internal workings, but I imagined an exotic version of =
the kind of wide, flat motor you find on ceiling fans and direct-drive =
turntables, and I was threatening to remove the cover from the bottom of =
the wheel so I could see the workings inside. I hadn't gotten around to =
doing that before NCECA, and then in the Shimpo booth they had one =
mounted on end in a transparent plexiglass housing, so the motor was =
right there in plain view. It was exactly as I had imagined. It really =
is a remarkable unit, and by far the quietest power wheel ever built. =
It is curious that Shimpo came up with this unit, since they are a huge =
international corporation known for power-transmission devices - =
gear-reducers, transmissions, belt-drives, etc., and this unit has none =
of those. They are an inovative company, even if they did retain some =
kind of irrational delusional adherence to one-piece splash pans. =20

Speaking of Shimpo, I do a lot of large-scale coil-built jars (you can =
see them in the gallery section of my website), usually a series of =
three at a time, and up to now I have been using those cheap CSI =
formica-covered-particle-board banding wheels with the big lazy susan =
bearings. They aren't much to begin with, and then they get =
contaminated with clay and get stiff. I have been dreaming about =
getting some of those heavy Shimpo cast-iron ball-bearing wheels. They =
are the cadillacs, but they have always been so damn expensive. I had =
also considered the ones recently being imported from China, but they =
are unpainted and already rusty when you get them, and they are pretty =
crudely made. So yesterday, before packing up my gear in the exhibition =
hall, I went over to the Shimpo booth and asked if they were going to =
sell the demo models, and to my surprise, the big one that I wanted was =
only $65! I think they have lowered their prices to compete, and then =
they also had a special show price reduction. But best of all, they had =
a supply of them there, so I bought three! I am pretty happy about =
that. =20

I had one of those extraordinary small world experiences yesterday. My =
artist-in-residence Wes Smith was watching the Craft Center table for me =
in the exhibition hall, and when I returned there was a woman standing =
by the table waiting for me. She smiled warmly, and it took me just a =
second to recognize my old grad school studio-mate Sherinatu Fafunwa, =
who taught me how to do Nigerian-style coil construction in the late =
1980s. I had not seen Sheri in at least ten years. As if that wasn't =
already enough, we were in the midst of a wonderful visit when who =
should come walking down the aisle but Albert Pfarr, ANOTHER fellow clay =
grad student from UMass. I called out to Albert, and he smiled and =
yelled back "Vince!" and then he saw Sheri, and his jaw dropped open, =
because he realized what an extraordinary coincidence this was, the =
three of us there together at that moment. The clay world is like that, =
but this was still a pretty amazing thing. =20

I left Indianapolis early this morning, and was back at the Craft Center =
shortly after noon. I have a workshop and show coming up in mid April =
at the Eastern Shore Art Center in Fairhope, AL, and there is still lots =
of work to do. Plus we are about to hire a new director for the Craft =
Center, and I am chair of the search committee. We have to make up our =
minds between two excellent finalists. It is a hard choice. Too much =
to do. Too much to do. =20

I look forward to reading other people's reflections on NCECA. =20
- Vince

Vince Pitelka
Appalachian Center for Craft, Tennessee Technological University
Smithville TN 37166, 615/597-6801 x111,,