Ceramics show proves good things fit in small packages

— To ceramic artists the world over, the term "cone box" means something.

So when you mention the "Orton International Cone Box Show," they're either familiar with the well-known biennial exhibition at Baker University or they understand it probably has something to do with size.


Richard Gwin/Journal-World Photo

"Soy Bottle," by Matt Payne, of Baldwin

For the large percentage of you who don't dabble in clay or fire kilns, here's a less technical name for the show: "Good Things Come in Small Packages."

More than 600 such packages arrived at Baker in late February, and a panel of international jurors whittled the passel to 175 of the most original, well-made creations from ceramists around the globe.

The only thing the artworks have in common is their wee proportions.

No piece is larger than 3 inches by 3 inches by 6 inches, the dimensions of the Orton Standard Pyrometric Cone Box from which the show takes its name. Ceramic artists use cones to monitor kiln temperatures during firings.

The artworks will be shown Tuesday through April 23 at Baker's Holt-Russell Gallery. An opening reception will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Conforming to diminutive restrictions can be tough, said Baker University art professor Inge Balch, who curates the show.

"Getting a piece down to a small size but still retaining the feel of being large is always a challenge," she said. "Other than that, it's imagination, creativity -- that plays a big part in this. Artists can have some fun with it."

And they do.

Works selected by the panel of international jurors range from functional to sculptural and conceptual. They're coated in the natural colors produced in wood and salt kilns and the vivid painted-on tones of commercial glazes. Smooth porcelain shares the exhibit with lumpy manipulated earthenware.

In "Urban Playground," Madison, Wis., artist Ryan Myers juxtaposes a human skull with a trio of skyscrapers inside a little red wagon pulled by a rope no longer than a Q-tip.

Artists from Singapore, Slovenia, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Lithuania, Canada, England and more are represented in this year's show.

Accomplished ceramists -- such as Yoshi and Ester Ikeda, Nina Holes, Kirk Mangus and Rimas VisGirda -- are exhibited alongside relative newcomers.

Matt Payne, a Baker University senior in art education who made the juror's cut with his "Soy Bottle," said he was honored to be in the high-caliber show.

"I was really surprised that the piece I made got in, actually, because of the quality of the competition," he said. "I'd seen most of the pieces. We'd gone up there and looked at them. It's beautiful work."


Richard Gwin/Journal-World Photo

Inge Balch, curator, looks over some of this year's submissions for the Orton International Cone Box Show, which opens Tuesday at Baker University.

Joining Balch as jurors were Janet Mansfield, an Australian ceramist and editor of the magazine "Ceramics: Art and Perception," and Phil Rogers, a well-known English potter and author of several ceramics books.

The exhibition has been at Baker alternating years since 1994, the first year entries were solicited from overseas.

But the show began in 1975 as the quirky brainchild of late Lawrence artist Bill Bracker, who then was teaching at Purdue University. He and the Orton Cone Box Co. wanted to create a show that demonstrated the beauty of small ceramic pieces.

In 1977, the national show moved with Bracker to Lawrence, where he taught at Kansas University for two years and then left to pursue his own pottery.

That would have been the end of the show, but Balch, a good friend of Bracker's, decided to resurrect the show and take it international. Bracker, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, loved the idea and helped until his death a few months prior to the show.

All work in the show is for sale. Prices range from $30 to $150. The pieces will tour for a year, however, before being returned to buyers.

If the Cone Box Show's reception at the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts conference last week in Indianapolis was any indication, Balch said, the pieces won't be available for long.

"I could have sold the whole show in Indianapolis," she said.


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