BY LENNIE BENNETT
Times Art Critic
Think of any possible way one could use clay in art or craft and you will be able to find it in area galleries, museums, even restaurants and commercial offices during the next few weeks.
The ceramic saturation is in honor of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts' 45th annual conference, which will be at the Tampa Convention Center from March 30 through April 2. This is the first time the NCECA event, which attracts about 5,000 artists and educators nationwide, has been held in Florida, so it's a Big Deal.
About 70 shows have been organized in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, with the highest concentration in Tampa and St. Petersburg. The variety is remarkable, from pre-Columbian vessels to contemporary works, and from the traditional definition of ceramics as functional objects to new interpretations intended only as nonfunctional art. I can't list them all and, because I haven't seen most of them, I can't comment on specifics of any show. But I can recommend seeing several of them to appreciate the wide range of creativity with a material that's as common as, well, clay. Go to the council's website, nceca.net, and click on "exhibitions and shuttles" for a complete list.
Besides the show at the Museum of Fine Arts, here are two more examples, with more shows opening later this month.
Art of Function Opening Reception: Top national ceramic artists showcase their new collections of functional clay. The reception is 5 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday; show runs through April 10. Free. Craftsman House, 2955 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 323-2787.
The Invisible Hand: A juried show of clay sculptures by Tampa regional artists runs Tuesday through April 8 at Old Hyde Park Art Center, 705 Swann Ave., Tampa. (813) 251-3780.