NCECA Rookie Year


When I was asked to start a blog for kilnshelf.com, I was feeling a bit nervous. What would I BLOG about?!? “Talk about your experiences in clay. You have been working in clay for a long time, you must have stories to share?” Over the next few days I kept thinking about writing a blog for kilnshelf.com. I soon realized I had been working with clay in one form or another for almost 2/3’s of my life. Next thought was that’s a long time?! A week later I was asked “Have you started writing or working on blogging ideas?” My answer: “Kinda…” My dilemma was where do I start? What should my first blog be about? Days went by and then it came to me - NCECA is just around the corner, write about the first NCECA conference you attended.

In 1978 I started working at Minnesota Clay Company, in Bloomington, MN. I remember every year some Minnesota Clay employees would be asked to attend a national clay conference. Wow, I thought, what do you do there? I was told “It’s all business while you’re there! We work at the booth all day, speaking with clay artists, ceramic professors, high school art teachers, and clay students about the products in Minnesota Clay’s catalog.” There was no internet then so the catalog was golden. Also, vendors were not allowed to sell any product at their booths, but they could hand out their catalog or informational flyers. This national clay conference was called the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts. There was no doubt in my mind that a three day conference with a name like that did sound busy! Since I had been working at Minnesota Clay less than a year, I wasn’t selected to attend the 1978 NCECA held at University of Illinois, Champaign. Two more NCECA conferences would come and go (NCECA 1979 Pennsylvania State University, with SuperMud and NCECA 1980 University of Michigan, Ann Arbor) before I was invited to attend my very first NCECA Conference.

It was 1981 and then it happened. I was asked by Em Swartout*, president of Minnesota Clay Company at that time, to attend the 15th annual NCECA conference, March 25th-28th in Wichita, Kansas. NCECA would be hosted by Wichita State University and was held at the Century II Convention Center. I was going!! I was going to NCECA! I was excited! Early on the morning of March 23rd, our group met in the Minnesota Clay parking lot. We loaded up the van and off we went. I was on my way to my first NCECA! I settled in; Wichita was a good 8-9 hours away. (*In 1990 Em founded Continental Clay Company in Minneapolis, MN.)

The days at the conference passed quickly. Approximately 1100 people were in attendance. Each day I met so many wonderful people who were involved in clay in one form or another. I was able to attend inspiring and educational panel presentations and workshop sessions. I was eating Maid-Rite sandwiches! Every evening was an adventure with dinners and parties. Oh boy, was I ever meeting a lot of clay people! I quickly learned… “Potters like to Party!” There was one glitch: in 1981, the Kansas Legislature permitted on-premises sales of liquor by the drink only in private clubs. (And some clubs did not allow women!) This lead many restaurants and other establishments in Kansas, to start charging their customers a one-time membership fee to enjoy libations. It seemed like that after day one of the conference most attendees had figured this out and had a club membership or two.

The original NuWay located on Douglas Avenue in Wichita, Kansas.

Made-Rite Sandwich Recipe

My time at NCECA was almost over. We took our booth down and packed everything up Friday afternoon when the exhibition hall closed for the day. I had heard during the week that Friday is the most celebrated evening at NCECA. I was thinking the past evenings have been so much fun, what could top them? Our evening started with drinks and dinner. It was a pleasant evening so we walked back to the hotel. Suddenly there was a lot of excitement and rumor had it someone was streaking!! Back at the hotel a party was definitely going on. There were parties on almost every floor. We made our way to the hotel ballroom to check out the live music. And wouldn’t you know it, not only dancing and socializing was going on but there was free love in the air!

Cindy Browne

Inside Sales Kiln Shelf Support Team
Smith-Sharpe Fire Brick Supply

2 comments (Add your own)

1. Debra Palmquist wrote:
Rookie no more! Have a great show in Portland. You can share the excitement with first timers and tips for making the most of it. Streaking optional?

Fri, March 17, 2017 @ 2:27 PM

2. Lisa Otten wrote:
Love your writers voice! So cool to read how this annual event all started and how you fell in love with the awesome community of potters!
Keep Blogging!!

Tue, April 25, 2017 @ 10:31 PM

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