ST. PETERSBURG — As many as 7,000 artists, students, collectors, historians and clay enthusiasts will descend on Tampa Bay for the National Conference on Education for the Ceramic Arts between March 30 and April 2. The annual conference that draws people from around the country plays nicely into the hands of the new owners of the St. Petersburg Clay Co. and their plan to significantly increase local and national awareness of the art studio and retail center.
"This is becoming an up-and-coming potter area. North Carolina is really known for its pottery, and Florida is starting to be known," said Matt Schiemann, who recently bought St. Petersburg Clay Co. with Adam Yungbluth. "We see the potential here. There is a really good foundation that was poured for us."
St. Petersburg Clay Co. is hosting Blastoff 2011 at the start of the conference. Artists are invited to bring their work and help load and fire four kilns inside and outside the 1914 train station that houses the art business at 420 22nd St. S.
In the 45 years that the ceramics conference has convened, this is its first appearance in the bay area.
"This is a big deal," said Kathryn Howd, a conference organizer and one of about 60 artists at St. Petersburg Clay Co. "Eighty percent of the galleries and studios are in St. Petersburg."
Most of the visitors will stay at downtown Tampa hotels because speakers and exhibitions are scheduled for the Tampa Convention Center. But with 37 shows planned for St. Petersburg galleries and other venues such as the Pier, much of their time will be spent on this side of the bay. A shuttle will run continuously from Tampa to the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
Some of the most creative minds in ceramics will converge to exchange ideas, see each other's work, buy favorite pieces and try new processes as well as some that are almost as old as time.
"Ceramics is by far the oldest tradition in art," Schiemann said. "It's not just a painting that gets hung on your wall. It's often also something you use, so there is an intimate relationship."
Schiemann came to St. Petersburg Clay Co. after applying to be an artist in residence in August 2009. Yungbluth discovered it when he came with a college professor to help rebuild a kiln. When they heard the original owners — Stan Cowen, Sean Manning and Charlie Parker — were considering a restructuring, they bought the business.
About 45 artists pay $85 to $225 a month for studio and retail space. There are four juried shows a year. Artists nationwide compete for a chance to be an exhibitor. In September, a show titled "Last Call" exhibited ways of presenting alcohol. Pieces included white and blue champagne flutes made from sheets of clay and a flask with an image and words of Babe Ruth.
About 2,000 items are for sale at St. Petersburg Clay Co. Schiemann and Yungbluth are working to ensure that the artists show different material on their shelves regularly.
"If people come in and it looks the same as it was last time they were in, what's the point of coming back?" Schiemann said.