Indianapolis lands the world’s largest ceramics event Long before Mayor Bart Peterson initiated the cultural tourism effort, the city of Indianapolis had begun to poise itself as a destination for conventions. This was an economic decision rather than a cultural one, yet it certainly had an impact on the cultural effort that would follow.  -Work by Brad Schwieger is on view at Artifacts-  When professor Dee Schaad of the University of Indianapolis began campaigning five years ago for the country’s largest ceramics convention to hold court here, it became a more drawn-out process than he anticipated — but the results finally paid off. As Schaad describes it, “It’s a giant jigsaw puzzle,” and the pieces finally came together two years ago when Indianapolis got the green light. NCECA, the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, will hold its annual convention here through Saturday.

The convention, in fact, has in effect begun; a trademark of the gathering is to work with the host city in creating ceramics exhibitions for its visiting artists, teachers, students, collectors, curators and critics from around the world, as well as the ceramics-interested who live in the host city. Making this connection, in fact, is a key component of the exhibition.

Indianapolis, Schaad implies, has blown NCECA’s expectations out of the water. A staggering number of institutions, from most of the universities in town to gift shop-variety art galleries, have joined in the ceramics dance. The University of Indianapolis, where Schaad teaches, is hosting 10 exhibits alone; co-host institution Herron School of Art is also hosting an ambitious series of shows and events. And this is just the tip of the … well … teapot.

Shuttles have been hired by conference planners to carry conferees — nearly 4,000 are expected — to exhibition sites from as far north as Broad Ripple to Bloomington, Ind., where the School of Fine Arts is hosting exhibitions and demonstrations. Other institutions are hosting ceramics-related exhibits that are not on the bus route both in town and beyond (from Terre Haute to Richmond).

While the NCECA Invitational Shuttle is only available to conferees, locals don’t fear: IDADA (Indianapolis Downtown Artists and Dealers Association) has coordinated its own shuttles. Virtually every commercial gallery downtown is on the route, from J. Martin Gallery in Fountain Square to Domont Studio Gallery nearby and Dean Johnson Gallery (Bald Headed Potters is a must-see) and 4 Star Gallery in the Mass. Ave. arts district (see box, right, for a more complete listing).

I visited Schaad in his U of I office during the campus’ spring break to talk about the anticipated events and what they mean for our city. Despite the absence of students, the campus was a bustle of activity. Schaad’s own work, prepared for display, offers a more playful view of the versatility of ceramics. And yet Schaad’s work is deep: Interpretations of mythological figures, but always with a humorous edge, are one of his hallmarks. Schaad walked me over to three of the U of I exhibits, almost completely installed in anticipation of the conference.

In the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center — in which the art department offices are located — an NCECA-sponsored exhibition offers a regional student juried exhibition. Ranging from large-scale polymorph sculptures to diminutive decorative ceramic tiles, the work is varied and reveals the scope of the medium that, with its earthy roots, is surprisingly advanced — although the influence of technology is not as visually apparent here as it is in media such as photography and film. The basics, though, the manipulation of the earth’s clay to make both useful and decorative objects or fine art, are easily taken for granted. As Schaad explains, there are three distinct areas in ceramics. The first is ceramic arts, “That’s what this [conference] is about,” he offers.

The second area is the ceramic industry — including mass produced products such as porcelain toilets and sinks, but it also includes the ceramic insulators in television sets and other industrial components. Finally, there’s pure ceramic science, which basically involves analyzing particles of clay. “I can’t think of another artform that has such a connection to industry,” Schaad adds.

-The theme of the conference, “INvestigations, INspirations: The Alchemy of Art & Science,” puts ceramics in a larger context and yet grounds it as an artform both ancient and modern.-Also on campus, the exhibition Pleasures of the Table offers a look at functional but decorative ceramics. Schaad’s own soup tureen (with accompanying bowls) is on display here; but it’s far beyond functional. The lid is topped by a set of Valkyrie-like horns. Bowls and platters also expand notions of functionality, with an eye-popping assortment of glazes and textures, all to remind us that much of ceramics is, after all, a science. The theme of the conference, “INvestigations, INspirations: The Alchemy of Art & Science,” seems to make some of these connections, putting ceramics in a larger context and yet grounding it as an artform both ancient and modern.

Co-hosting institution Herron School of Art, where associate professor Mark Richardson serves as the NCECA conference co-liaison, is hosting one of the more decidedly scientific exhibitions of the lot. BioMimicry: The Art of Imitating Life interprets biomimicry, which is the process of mimicking the genius of nature. Dr. Mark D. Pescovitz, a professor of surgery and director of the Division of Transplant Surgery at Indiana University, offers up his own insights in an exhibition essay: “The science of biomimicry studies the solutions to complex problems discovered by nature, which allowed nature to survive and advance. Biomimics, practitioners of biomimicry, then imitate or emulate these solutions, applying them to human problems … Their goal is not to control nature but to learn from nature.” (The biomimicry-related nature of transplant surgery is not lost on Pescovitz.) The exhibition on the whole explores this concept through the medium of ceramics.

Furthering the science and art connection, the conference keynote speaker, V.S. Ramachandran, M.D., will talk about “The Artful Brain: What Neurology Can Tell Us about Human Nature and Art.” Heady stuff, to be sure.

Schaad encourages anyone interested in the field of ceramics, from hobbyists who may have taken a class or two and want to learn more about a particular method to collectors of ceramics art, to check out the conference as well as the numerous exhibitions in town. Day passes are available for the duration of the conference on-site at the Indiana Convention Center. As Schaad says, “The mayor said he wanted cultural tourism; by God he got it.”

NCECA NCECA, the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, will present its annual conference, “the world’s largest event held in the field of ceramic arts,” in Indianapolis March 17-20, with conference-sponsored and community-generated exhibitions continuing. For more information about NCECA, visit For more information about the conference, call 788-3253. Visit the Indiana Convention Center to purchase day passes to conference sessions — largely technical in nature — or contact local galleries for information about individual exhibits or the IDADA shuttle.  Here’s a partial list of participating local institutions:  Herron Ceramics/Sculpture Gallery Herron Gallery Harrison Center for the Arts

LAMP Fine Art Gallery

Dean Johnson Gallery

4 Star Gallery

Ruschman Art Gallery

Indianapolis Art Center


The Bungalow

Hoosier Salon

Turandot Decorative Arts

The Potter’s House Studio and Gallery (all proceeds benefit the Julian Center)

Animatopia Art Gallery Happy Trails Design Studio

Bodner Studios

University of Indianapolis Wheeler Arts Community

J. Martin Gallery

St. Patrick Church Dolphin Papers

Domont Studio Gallery

Mavris Building

Midland Arts and Antiques Market


Eiteljorg Museum

Indiana Historical Society

American Art Clay Company

AXIS Architecture/Interiors

Marian College

Indianapolis Museum of Art

Conner Prairie Living History Museum

Fishers Museum of Miniature Houses, Carmel

  Exhibitions are also on view at the School of Fine Arts and in commercial galleries in Bloomington, at the Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute, Ball State University in Muncie, Wabash College in Crawfordsville and Earlham College in Richmond. For a complete list, contact the University of Indianapolis at 788-3253.


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