Founded to Showcase the Best: A History of the National K-12 Ceramic Exhibition Foundation

“If you build it, they will come.”  That famous prediction from the movie Field of Dreams is exactly what now happens each year at the Annual National K-12 Ceramic Exhibition. Thousands of people walk through what has come to be known as “the k12clay show,” held annually in whatever city is hosting the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA). This unique show has become a crowd favorite among hundreds of exhibits going on during the conference. Surprised newcomers typically utter, “Oh, I can’t believe a kid made that.”

Every year in this exhibition, top ceramic art students from around the country honor their teachers and the ceramic tradition with new work that exceeds even the expectations of the show’s founders, board of directors, supporters, and volunteers. Val Cushing, the exhibition juror in 2004, has said its best work was “better than much of the work being done in graduate programs nationwide.” The show is magical and because it is sustained annually, the magic returns every year.


Before 1990, in the founding members’ earliest years together, our group had no formal identity and plenty of frustration with the lack of support for the kindergarten through grade twelve ceramic education environments. We began to ask for support from the NCECA board. Lee Burningham, then a ceramic arts teacher in Utah, remembers us asking NCECA board members in 1991, “Why isn’t K-12 ceramics represented at NCECA? And how should the importance of the K-12 ceramics programs across the country be best showcased?” Their answer: “NCECA is member-driven. If you want it, you need to make it happen.” We solicited feedback from attendees of the conferences in Cincinnati, New Orleans, and Minneapolis, ending in Rochester in 1996. Our goals seemed reasonable to us, but we were getting nowhere. We sought:

  1. Breakout sessions that included K-12 ceramic education
  2. Some K-12 clay programming for teachers seeking to improve their teaching
  3. An event for lots of teachers that related to K-12 ceramic education
  4. A dedicated space and support for a K-12 ceramic exhibition
  5. A special interest group for communications, planning, and board representation

At a frustrating K-12 strategy meeting during the 1996 NCECA in Rochester, Leah Pierce, an inspired K-12 art teacher at Ursuline Academy in Dallas, slammed her hand down and said, “That’s it, I’m not waiting. We’re gonna have a show in Dallas.” Lee Birmingham later commented, “Talk about a perfect challenge to a bunch of stubborn, disparate, and highly motivated ceramics school teachers.”