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my nceca experience (longish)

updated wed 23 mar 05


Ken Nowicki on mon 21 mar 05

I sit here this morning, digesting the experience from spending a week in
Baltimore at NCECA, sipping a nice big cup of hot coffee from my beautiful new
ash glazed mug from Capt. Mark Issenberg... and reading through all the posts in
my 'inbox' from Clayart... and the debate about the NCECA conference/Clayart
experience. I have a few opinions, but there is enough that's been shared
already that pretty much echoes my sentiments, so I won't go into expressing them
all here. (Well, maybe a few... )

I've been thinking more about my own low points and high points of this
conference experience, and overall, the conference was absolutely a positive one
for me, and I fully plan on attending the one in Portland, and New Orleans if at
all possible. My head is still reeling from the experience, and I'm
experiencing a wee bit of exhaustion and the 'Issenberg affliction' known as "CRS"
(Can't Remember Shit)... so please... don't be offended if I've overlooked a few
names mentioned in my NCECA summary below... I'm amazed I can even type at all
today anyway.

For me... here is just a small sampling of what I can recall at the moment...

Dinner at "Shula's" (Windham Hotel) with Feriz Delkic, Nils Lou, Mel
Jacobson, and Kurt Wild
I was completely honored to be invited to dinner by Feriz, and spend a truly
"quality" evening with these other gentlemen. It was an experience that I will
cherish forever. It was my first meeting with Nils, and getting to know him
better was an honor. Of course, spending time with Kurt and Mel is always a
rewarding experience. I met Feriz for the first time last year in Indianapolis,
and throughout the year, we have been in touch by phone on this "hybrid" kiln
project of mine numerous times, developing our friendship, but I feel so
fortunate that this man likes me... cause I REALLY like him! I have the deepest
respect for him and listen to every word he utters, as he is so brilliant and has
so much to offer. I would not even be involved with this exciting kiln project
were it not for Feriz and invention of ITC products, as well as the
incredible knowledge and experience of Nils, and Mel's expertise in "hybrid kilns".
These guys are truly "pioneers" in this new technology, and without their bold
experimentation, efforts, and testing of hybrid kilns... I would not to be able
to stand on their shoulders on this project and ratchet it up another notch.
We all shared interesting, enlightening, and warm hearted conversation that
evening... and the food was fabulous. I had THE best prime rib I've ever had in
my life... was incredible!
Joe Koons & Mel's discussion in Clayart Room about "iron glaze study"
A very enlightening discussion was shared by Joe about this glaze study. Was
really cool to see how this culminated and where Mel and Joe were/are going
with this.
Shino Show at Baltimore Clayworks
What a show! Blown away. As I believe Kelly might have mentioned... the
variation was so unexpected and refreshing. Wayne and I drove there in my
Expedition after downloading and writing down driving directions from from
my laptop (I didn't realize that the Days Inn had a business center
downstairs which I could've printed them out on in two seconds instead! Doh!) I had a
feeling that the bus tour there on Saturday (to which I had a ticket) would be
horrendously crowded, and I'd heard that it was a small venue. Boy were we
glad we did this together ahead of time. We were sorry we couldn't connect with
Gregg Lindsley, as we'd hoped he might join us, but he got caught up in
something else. Amazingly, when we tried to round up two more passengers to join
us... from the Clayart room, hotel lobby, etc. -- nobody else wanted to come
along! Wayne and I both enjoyed the Orton Cone show, as well as shopping for pots
across the street from the Baltimore Clayworks.
Taking care of "needed business" with vendors face to face at the commercial
exhibitors booths
I used a great deal of my time at NCECA to take care of things I needed to do
for my kiln project and my studio I'm trying to rebuild, rather that scramble
around trying to see the lectures, demos, etc. like I usually do. This proved
to be very productive for me. I was able to spend time at L&L (which whom
seems more like 'family' to me now); plan a ventilation solution for my kiln with
the folks at Vent-A-Kiln which should work out beautifully (this has been a
tough issue thus far with this project, so finding a solution was especially
productive for me); work through some ideas with Smith-Sharp regarding testing
"Advancers" kiln shelves in my hybrid; arrange for the pickup of my new VPM-30
with the good folks at Peter Pugger (yes, the one you saw in their booth was
the one I drove home with! ); and had a wonderful conversation with Polly
Beach regarding my article on this project at the Clay Times booth... and she
has given me the "green light" to publish it with Clay Times! (now I just have
begin testing the kiln, and finish writing the article).
Clayart Room
What can I say? For those of you that have experienced the "Clayart Room" at
NCECA in the past... I'm sure you all agree with me that this experience is
like no other. This was my 7th NCECA conference, and my 5th one since I first
nervously entered the Clayart way back in Charlotte, NC. For me, the NCECA
conference simply wouldn't be the same without Clayart... period. And I for one...
hope that Clayart remains part of the NCECA experience. It has to be the
warmest family of people I've come to know, and enriches my life incredibly. Every
year I get to meet new Clayart folks, and strengthen friendships with others
from years past. It never ceases to amaze me. What a group! I cannot even to
begin to mention all of the wonderful things I experienced this year in the
Clayart Room, or elsewhere throughout the Days Inn, and beyond through fellow
Clayarters. Just too many to mention here. I love you guys. All of you. You're
Meals with Clayarters throughout the conference, before, and after
David McBeth and I walked down to the Harborplace by the water Tuesday night,
and after I bought a few cigars from a neat little shop down there... we
strolled over to a seafood restaurant and had an amazing seafood meal Baltimore
style. David's a great guy, and I'm so glad we got the opportunity to spend some
time together.

A handful of us ate buffet style in the Days Inn restaurant Wednesday
night... which was cool... cause I got to know Dannon Rhudy a little better, and meet
Tony Ferguson for the first time.

Thursday night was the dinner at Shula's.

15 of us Clayarters descended on a little pub/microbrewery next to the Days
Inn Friday night... replete with Pirates and Wenches in tow. They stuck us
upstairs in our own dining room... and of course... we had a ball. We kept that
little 'wharf rat' waiter running around, earning his pay we did... arrrgh

Saturday night, Mark Issenberg and I treated ourselves to Shula's (my second
time) after we had the absolute "Bus Tour from HELL" and were completely
famished. We'd not eaten all day long, and felt as though after what we'd been
through, we needed to pamper ourselves a bit. What an absolutely superb dining
experience we shared. Incredible food, conversation, and wine. Couldn't ask for a
better way to end what turned out to be a crappy day. We came back to the
hotel lobby and shared a little cognac I had stashed away and chatted with fellow
Clayarters in the lobby until wee hours of the morning.

Annual Clayart 'get together' Tuesday night in the Hotel's Lobby bar
Not quite the crowd (at least initially) that I expected, but slowly built to
a respectable showing by Clayarters as the evening progressed. I began the
evening by sharing drinks and conversation with Steve Lewicki, Bob Gregan (both
from L&L) and David McBeth... soon afterward familiar faces began appearing...
Russell F.... Carla F.... Gail P... Nan K... Wayne S... and a host of others
began filtering in. All was good in "Clayart-land". :-)
The beautiful waterfront by the Inner Harbor
My first time in Baltimore. What a pretty city. Reminded me a little bit of
my home town of San Diego... especially at night down by the waterfront. Other
than the occasional "shady character" on the streets... begging for money,
shouting at passersby, or trying to put a scam on all of us ...the city of
Baltimore was very nice. There was this guy with an "I've just been jumped, need $14
for bus money, just got out of the hospital -- see, look at my hospital
bracelet" scam circulating in the area near the hotel... he was quite a piece of
work -- polished act, polite, not too scruffy, almost believable - I ALMOST fell
for it!
The management/staff at the Days Inn
In the past, Clayart has experienced "hard asses" who have frowned on our
group bringing food items and libations into the Clayart Room for all of us to
share. We can't help it. Most of us are on a fairly tight budget, need to save
where we can... and we're a sharing group anyway... it's more of a potluck
atmosphere than anything else. Some hotels we've had to "hide" our liquor and food
items from in the past... but here... at the Days Inn... they just let us be
and didn't even flinch an eye. They were very accommodating to our group...
and they let us do "our own thing" which was a refreshing change. In fact, I
found the hotel staff and management to be extremely helpful, kind, and courteous
on all counts... certainly more than I expected for a Days Inn. I even had
the security guard out front offer to find a special parking place for my
Expedition with UHaul trailer attached for the last two days I was there, so I
wouldn't have to hassle with disconnecting the trailer and paying extra to store it
in the parking garage. When I checked out, I let the management know how much
we all appreciated their service and the kindness they showed us.
Driving home with a small UHaul trailer behind my vehicle, loaded with new
equipment for my new studio.
Okay... so this was probably one of the biggest joys for me... bar none. I've
been wanting a Peter Pugger for eons it seems, and have never owned a pugmill
or clay mixer before... so this was a BIG deal to me. I'd called the folks at
Peter Pugger way back in October to let them know I was interested in getting
a VPM-30 and that I was driving to Baltimore in March, and if they could
offer me a great deal, I could save them some money by taking one off of their
hands at the show and they wouldn't have to worry about the expense of shipping
it back to Northern California. Fortunately for me, they were willing to work
with me and did in fact give me a great deal and I was able to take one home
yesterday. I have to tell you, that my good friend, Wayne Seidl was an IMMENSE
help to me on Friday when it came time to physically pick up the pugmill from
the commercial exhibition hall... and was such a help getting my equipment
loaded into my trailer and securing it for the ride home. This is what Clayart is
all about. Family. Helping one another. It's awesome. Thank you Wayne, you're
the best!

Since I had already made arrangements to rent a small UHaul trailer to tow my
Peter Pugger home in, I was able to take advantage of a killer deal at the
A.R.T. booth on an Alpine stainless steel Glaze Table on Friday... and was able
to take their new smaller 'studio' model home with me for a price simply too
good to pass up. This is one well built table, and I'd been coveting their
earlier larger model for many years, but this one is actually better for my small
studio, and the smaller bins will work out perfectly. So that was an added
bonus! :-)))

Wednesday's Bus Tour - The Clay National bus route
I had partied perhaps a wee bit too much the night before and didn't get to
bed until 3:30 AM... which contributed to my bad experience Wednesday, but,
that being said... once again... NCECA had let many down on their bus tours this
year. In my haste, I grabbed my program guide before I left thinking that the
information about the tour would be inside, like it usually is, and I could
look it over again once on the bus to decide which stops I wanted to see. Much
to my dismay, (and admittedly, my fault for not taking the time to look through
all my papers in the NCECA bag they handed me upon registration) I quickly
discovered that I didn't have the booklet which described the bus tours with me.
This year, (for the first time I believe) they printed a separate small
booklet for the "Tour de Clay" bus tours for the conference. I suppose I could've
asked to borrow someone else's on the bus, but given that I was feeling a bit
"hung" and not 100%... I wasn't even sure I wanted to talk to anyone else for
the first few hours of the day... so I thought to myself... "well, I'll just
get off at the first stop and see what's there"... which I did. It was an okay
stop... and afterwards... I walked to a nearby restaurant for some lunch. After
lunch, I returned to the spot where the buses were to pick up passengers.
There, I waited with perhaps 20 other people waiting to be picked up to go to the
next stop. We waited... and waited... and finally... about 30 minutes
later... a small little bus shuttle van rounds the corner... you know, the kind that
hotels use at airports to pickup their guests. It was full, and nobody was
getting off. Grrrrr. We all grumbled quietly. Finally, upon someone's insistence,
the bus driver got on his cell phone and tried to reach someone to find out
when the next bus would arrive. He sat there, engine idling for a good 15 more
minutes before he finally got off the phone and said to all of us... the next
bus would be just behind him in a few minutes. Satisfied enough... we all
watched him drive away... not knowing it would nearly another 20 or so minutes
before the next bus arrived. Okay... so now all of use have been waiting over an
hour... and we've only seen the first stop. I get on the bus... and it's
taking us forever to get anywhere it seems... knowing the afternoon is nearly
over... I opt to skip all the stops except for the Clay National exhibit which is
what I really wanted to see anyway. Got off the bus. Saw the Clay National...
and waited... and waited... and waited again for another bus to arrive.
Finally... one arrives, and I decided to stay put in my seat until we got back to the
conference center, for fear of being left stranded without a bus ride home if
I got off at any of the other stops. Everyone on the bus felt the same. We
just wanted to get back to the conference center. It sucked. It was a bummer...
and I felt... a general waste of everyone's time.
Saturday's Bus Tour - The Baltimore North route

Given my experience Wednesday, and the fact I'd already seen the Baltimore
Clayworks exhibition the day before by car... I was thinking about skipping the
North Baltimore tour on Saturday all together. I was hoping that I could drive
to a few more exhibits, but I didn't want the hassle with disconnecting the
trailer to my SUV, and quite probably losing the premium parking space that I
had at the hotel. My friend, Mark Issenberg was going on the tour, and I had no
other plans, so I thought, what the heck... I could hang out with Mark and
see some of the other stops on the tour anyway. The lines for the bus outside
the convention center looked encouraging, practically nonexistent... so I
thought... well, maybe this won't be as bad as Wednesday was... WRONG!!! It was

After our first stop at MICA, we waited nearly 90 minutes before a bus came
along to pick us up!!! There was nearly 35 people by then... all waiting for
the next bus! Many had tried their luck "on foot", trying to find their way to
the light rail or city buses... other's tried calling a cab... and the cab
never even showed up! Mark and I hadn't eaten a thing that morning, and we'd hoped
to find a little restaurant on stop #3 cause we'd heard there were shops &
restaurants nearby, nothing really near us on stop #1. By the time we finally
got to stop #3, it was so late in the afternoon, we just wanted to get back to
the convention center... for fear that if we got off... once again we'd be
stranded with no ride back. By the time we got to Baltimore Clayworks (stop #4) it
was already 5:00 PM... and there were about 40 people that had been waiting
forever... and they rushed the bus to try and see if they could get on. The
volunteer on the bus was out of his mind... (and in my opinion, an idiot) and was
telling us, that they still planned to go onto the next 7 stops before
heading back to the convention center... this is now 5:15 PM mind you!!! He also
wouldn't allow any extra passengers on the bus since they couldn't be seated in a
seat... nobody standing in the isle he said. Okay, normally I can understand
this policy, but in THIS situation... I think they could have made an
EXCEPTION. Geeze! Finally, the bus driver gets on the radio with his supervisor who
tells him... come directly back to the convention center, that they are sending
buses to pick up the other passengers that are still waiting outside the
Baltimore Clayworks. Even with skipping the other stops, we still didn't get back
to the hotel until 6:30 PM... and we'd only seen ONE STOP!!! We got on the bus
at 1:30 PM that day... 5 hours of HELL!!! UN-freaking-believable. I don't
think I'll ever ride another NCECA Bus Tour again. I still have the last f'd up
mess burned into my memory from San Diego's NCECA where the buses we're dropping
us off blocks and blocks away from where they were supposed to... with nobody
picking anyone up where they were supposed to... leaving everyone to fend for
their own finding a way back to their hotel.

For the record, I DO plan to write a lengthy letter to NCECA and let them
know of my experiences and disappointment with their bus tours. I'm not just
bitching for the sake of it here.
"Attitude" from the Security and Union dock workers at the Conference Center
Trying to be proactive and make the pickup of the Peter Pugger smooth on
Friday, I had previously contacted the security at the conference and inquired
about where, and when I should pick up my equipment at the close of the
commercial exhibitors on Friday. I was shown the dock area where I could back my
trailer up to. I even went down to the main security gate to ask if they needed
anything ahead of time or needed to know who I was, and that I'd be picking up my
equipment on Friday, just so there wouldn't be any problems. Everything seemed
in order, and they told me to just drive up to the gate on Friday and they'd
let me in.

On arriving with my trailer on Friday, I got differing opinions from A.R.T.
and Peter Pugger about where to go. A.R.T. was telling me that they were having
to deliver all equipment out the front of the building cause they weren't
allowing anyone to use the loading dock for this purpose, and Peter Pugger was
telling me that the dock was clear, and to come back there, that they were
hassling people trying to unload stuff out front. Finally, I got a hold of Wayne
via cell who was waiting for me at the dock, he said it wasn't that busy... so I
decided to give the loading dock a try. As I approached the gates, some woman
security guard came running after my truck... screaming all kinds of stuff...
telling me that I should have checked with "her" first before driving up to
the gates... barking at me. Finally, I got in to the loading area, only when I
tried to back the trailer up to ramp (where I was told to previously) some
dock worker union guy come strutting down the ramp screaming me the "riot act"...
about "You can't bring that up here! You have to come inside and fill out
paperwork and file it with the office, and secure and submit a "Bill of Lading"
first!!!... and then you need to get in line and wait until you're called for
to load up your trailer!!!..." and blah blah blah... Oh for God's sake... give
me a break. I backed up the trailer and parked it near a curb, Wayne helped
me get the pugger and table in the trailer... tie it all down and we
high-tailed it out of there!
Relatively uninteresting (to me) program for NCECA this year
Finding half a dozen bags left from the Clayart "mug exchange" table late at
night, all unstapled and rifled through.
I don't know if another person from Clayart did this... but I would hope it
was someone from outside Clayart, cause it really hurt to think that someone
would be as insensitive as this to rifle through the stapled shut bags to try
and "pick out the best one" to take home for the mug exchange they missed
attending. I came into the room right before turning in for bed Friday night... and
discovered this. Bummed me out.
Knowing that I'll have to wait another whole year before this experience
happens again
I suppose the biggest disappointment was not being able to get to all of the
great exhibition venues that Baltimore Clayworks and others, including the
folks at NCECA had worked so hard to put together. I mean, to me... that was
what was the most impressive lineup for this conference, and it seemed jam-packed
with great things to see... and perhaps... that was also part of the problem.
Too much to see... too spread out geographically... and CLEARLY not enough
buses... and the buses were not running FREQUENTLY ENOUGH.

I hope that NCECA can get it's act together finally... someday... on this bus
thing. For now... I'll make other arrangements thank you... I've lost all
trust in the system as it exists. Looking forward to Portland... and I'm bringing
my fly rod this time and will set aside a day for some serious steelhead

All the best,

- Ken

Ken Nowicki
Port Washington, NY
Potters Council - Charter Member

Bryan on tue 22 mar 05

> Too much to see... too spread out geographically... and CLEARLY not
> buses... and the buses were not running FREQUENTLY ENOUGH.
> I hope that NCECA can get it's act together finally... someday... on
this bus
> thing.

The busses need to go both ways around the routes.

>For now... I'll make other arrangements thank you... I've lost all
> trust in the system as it exists. Looking forward to Portland...

Anybody else want to share in a van rental?

Bryan Johnson