Visual arts

Alabama Clay Conference takes control of Columbiana – Shelby County Reporter

By SASHA JOHNS | Community columnist

COLOMBIAN – Clay artists from across the Southeast converged on Columbiana at the Shelby County Arts Council Feb. 17-19 for the 37th Annual Alabama Clay Conference.

The sold-out conference was organized by the Alabama Visual Artist Network (ALVAN), a nonprofit organization that focuses on “the appreciation of the visual arts and the role they play in economic vitality and quality lives of Alabama communities”.

This year’s conference featured four keynote presenters who are at the top of their fields nationally: Benjie Hue, Adero Willard, Paul Wandless and Tim See.

Hue was one of those who completed the details of an art installation that represented his life’s work in the facility’s EBSCO gallery.

“It’s technically multiple bodies of work over the years,” he said. “It is truly a personal account of my life and experiences and includes some of my early work as well as some of my recent work.”

He went on to say that much of his new work has been inspired by some of the world events of recent years.

Hue is an Alabamian originally from Huntsville who went to school with the Arts Council‘s own Nelson Grice. Together they studied with artist Ted Metz.

Hue is now a professor at Southeast Missouri State.

In addition to keynote presenters, the conference hosted a wide variety of workshops for its attendees, ranging from career building in the clay arts to various techniques in the field.

Potters and ceramics vendors were also on hand to talk shop and offer supplies to artists, and finished pottery by local artists was also available for purchase.

Speaker Agnes Stark, of Memphis, has attended five of the conferences over the years.

She said she keeps coming back because of the quality of the event.

“It’s a wonderful conference, not too far from my home, and I’m still learning a lot,” Stark said.

The conference was also a great opportunity for the Main Street District of Columbiana, as the conference drew nearly 160 guests and volunteers to the small town. Conference attendees were encouraged to get out and enjoy the quaint town’s shops and restaurants during scheduled free time.

“It’s easy to isolate yourself as an artist. You spend so much alone time creating,” said conference volunteer Donnalee Blankenship. “It’s a great way to hang out and connect with other artists and cool off.”

Plans are already underway for next year’s Clay Conference to be held in Auburn. To learn more about the Alabama Visual Arts Network and the Clay Conference, visit