Local Rock Stars of Clay

A national ceramics conference takes place downtown this month, so Seattle is showing off its tremen

For the first time, the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) is convening in Seattle (3/28–3/31), which means approximately 5,000 ceramics fanatics are descending on our city. In celebration, 183 venues—stretching from Bellingham to Tacoma, and ranging from art galleries to Harborview Medical Center to the windows at Nordstrom—are showcasing works of clay.

Cochair of the Seattle host committee and local ceramist Marge Levy says that since the 1960s, Seattle has had a national reputation as a hotbed of ceramists, particularly those working in narrative and figurative forms (rather than throwing pots—though we have our share of potters, too). Fellow cochair Wally Bivins, a ceramist who has been executive director of Pottery Northwest for the last eight years, adds that the Seattle clay community is “currently going through a reawakening…and the future looks very good.” He praises the University of Washington’s M.F.A. program in ceramics—consistently ranked in the top five nationally, whose venerable faculty roster has included artists Akio Takamori, Patti Warashina, Jamie Walker and Doug Jeck—and notes its reputation for fostering artists “looking to turn the next page” in clay. Also adding to Seattle’s ceramics clout: the aforementioned Pottery Northwest, open since 1966 and long revered for its teaching and artist residency programs; and the nonprofit Seward Park Clay Studio, led by ceramist Peter Olsen, which has been offering classes on the shore of Lake Washington since 1969.

Why clay? Says Levy, “In this digital world, clay speaks to our need for touch.” Bivins agrees. “I believe it’s the sensuous and responsive nature of the material. You touch it and it moves,” he says, adding, “It’s a chameleon that can imitate any other material.” This month, our city celebrates clay matter, in all its forms.


Dynamic Ceramics
Our top picks for clay hits

Washington State Convention Center: NCECA (3/1–3/31) Conference exhibits will be open to the public, displaying new and collected works by such Seattle stars as Anne Hirondelle, Jeffry Mitchell, Akio Takamori, Jamie Walker, Patti Warashina and Robert Sperry. nceca.net

Lundgren Monuments: The Potter and the Urn (3/1–3/31) Beautiful new cremation vessels made from clay and porcelain by local artists including Jeffry Mitchell, John Ellefson, Deborah Schwartzkopf, Wally Bivins and Peter Olsen. lundgrenmonuments.com

Bellevue Arts Museum: Falling Feels a Lot Like Flying (3/1–5/27) Vancouver, BC, ceramist Dirk Staschke shows off his amazingly realistic clay cakes. bellevuearts.org

Seattle Design Center: Show of Heads (3/26–3/31) An exhibit of contemporary ceramic artists focused on the noggin, including Seattleites Tip Toland and Doug Jeck. nceca.net

Frye Art Museum: Eternity and Commoner (Through 4/8) Taiwanese sculptor Li Chen crafts monumental clay forms on skeletons of wood and rope and allows them to dry, crack and reveal their innards over the course of the show. fryemuseum.org

Henry Art Gallery: Around the Bend and Over the Edge (Through 5/6) A show of locally crafted work revealing how Seattle ceramists in the 1960s and '70s called traditional clay forms into question. henryart.org

Above: "Rodriguez with Flowers" by George Rodriguez