KANSAS CITY, MO – The 2016 edition of the International Orton Cone Box Show and Past Cone Box Juror Show is now on view at The Hilliard Gallery (Kansas City, March 4-25). It is part of NCECA’s 50th ceramic jamboree. It’s the biggest little show in contemporary ceramics. The requirements are that the work be at least 50 percent clay and that it fit into a standard Orton box of pyrometric cones. (Amazing how many entrants choose to ignore the latter and be disqualified.) Cones are placed in the kiln to measure temperature but they are less a feature of ceramics today because kilns are increasingly controlled by computer programs, which gives this exhibition the frisson of a romantic past.
Above image courtesy of the Baker Orange.
This year’s competition was juried by Garth Clark, the Australian potter Greg Daly and Inge G. Balch, a Danish–born farmer, ceramist, and educator who has directed this project since 1993. “Our job was made a lot easier by Daly,” juror Clark recalled. ”He said that the trick is to see whether the maker is thinking in miniature by just trying to make a piece that fits the box. He would reject all of the latter.” And that is largely what happened. The denizens of Lilliput made it through. Here is a list of the artists who made the cut. We encourage you to go visit this fascinating show (but bring your bi-focals). We also suggest that you read the history of the competition from the show’s website:
As a professor of ceramics at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, Bill Bracker had access to all of the ceramic department facilities, but kept a studio and salt kiln at his home. One of the neighborhood kids, Jerry Evans, expressed an interest in pottery, so Bill allowed Jerry a limited amount of kiln space in exchange for helping keep the studio clean. Jerry maximized his firing space by making tiny pots. After just a few firings, Jerry proudly showed Bill a cigar box full of his miniature pots…enough pieces for an entire exhibit in one small box! The cigar box full of Jerry’s pots also reminded him of his ceramic “sketchpads,” which were actually four shadow boxes filled with miniature versions of different forms and styles of his pottery.
In 1974, Bill was encouraged by Lee Ferber and Richard Peeler, fellow ceramic teachers, to pursue the idea of a juried show for miniature ceramic pieces. A show of miniatures would be a perfect opportunity for a juror to adjudicate the actual pieces while still keeping shipping and handling costs down for artist entries. The question of size limitation was because of Bill’s history with storing little pots in the Orton Standard Cone Boxes, a 3″ x 3″ x 6″ box that potters quickly accumulated in almost every studio. Although he could get some support for the show through Purdue University (where he still taught), he knew he needed additional sponsorship and approached the Orton Ceramic Foundation.
The First National Cone Box Show was held at Purdue University in September 1975 in conjunction with the 1975 Midwest Ceramic Art and Material Symposium. Bill asked Gary Fuller, of the Purdue School of Engineering, to coordinate the show with him. Ellen Canavier, crafts coordinator of the visual art program for the National Endowment of the Arts, served as juror for the show and selected 153 pieces to exhibit from over 300 entries. The exhibition was on display at Purdue Creative Arts Gallery, September 12 – October 15, 1975.
The show experienced a period of inactivity following the departure of Bill Bracker from Kansas University shortly after the third show. In 1993 Inge Balch, Professor of Art at Baker University, Kansas, asked Bill for his blessing to revive the show.
Past Jurors of the International Cone Box Show:
1975, Purdue University – Ellen Canavier
1977, Kansas University – Marj Peeler, Richard Peeler, Bill Bracker
1979, Kansas University – John Ground, Glenn Rand, Jim Nabors, Bill Bracker
1994, Baker University – Bill Hunt, Margaret Carney, Yoshiro Ikeda
1996, Baker University – Karen Karnes, Judy Schwartz, Brad Schweiger
1998, Baker University – Michael Simon, Harris Deller, Anna Calluori Holcomb
2000, Baker University – Nina Hole, Jeff Oestreich, Richard Notkin
2002, Baker University – Mitsuo Shoji, Wilfredo Torres, Inge Balch
2004, Baker University – Janet Mansfield, Phil Rogers, Inge Balch
2006, Baker University – Steven Hill, Inge Balch
2008, Baker University – Bede Clarke, John Neely, Inge Balch
2010, Lawrence Arts Center – Peter Callas, Malcom Davis, Inge Balch
2012, Lawrence Arts Center – Tom Coleman, Patti Warashina, Inge Balch
Visitors will discover that viewing this show may be more demanding optically than any one of the dozens of other exhibitions curated in honor of NCECA’s 50th anniversary. To view small objects one has to enter that work’s space, often few inches away and give it, perversely, more time that you might a bigger piece. Visit the show; focus, peer and squint, it is worth the effort.
What do you think of contemporary ceramics in miniature? Let us know in the comments.