Hundreds of hollow clay bricks sat stacked in a heap, facing all directions. Not in disarray, but not looking particularly organized either.
That is, until artist Sharan Elran picked up a few and started stacking them, turning an unremarkable pile into a sturdy-looking cylindrical wall.
The point of the installation, part of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts' conference in town this week, was to illustrate migration — the way people move from all different places toward collective order.
"When people move, they try to look for people of their kind to form a community in a new place," Elran explained.
Pottery enthusiasts from across the globe gathered this week in Tampa and St. Petersburg for their 45th annual conference. The event, which continues through Saturday, is stationed at the Tampa Convention Center, with vendors, displays, demonstrations and seminars.
Dozens of local galleries are also participating. A continuous shuttle transports visitors from downtown Tampa to exhibitions in St. Petersburg, North Tampa and at the University of South Florida.
It's a validation for the bay area, which has recently sought recognition from the creative world with hot spots like the new Tampa Museum of Art, Salvador Dalí Museum and Chihuly Collection in St. Petersburg.
"It's a great time to come out and look at art. You'll find plenty of it," said Adam Kitzerow, exhibition coordinator for the Centre Gallery and William and Nancy Oliver Gallery at USF.
"It has been fabulous to see everybody working together," said Diane Shelly, executive director of Florida Craftsmen Gallery in St. Petersburg.
"It puts Tampa regional artists on the map," said Stephanie Grimes, a curator at the Old Hyde Park Art Center.
The ceramics council chose Tampa Bay after professors from St. Petersburg's Eckerd College and the University of Florida in Gainesville alerted organizers to the thriving arts scene here.
The weather didn't hurt, either.
"A lot of people consider the conference their yearly vacation," said Patsy Cox, the ceramic council's president-elect.
Organizers expect 5,000 to 10,000 people. Four thousand had registered by Wednesday.
"There's a ball of energy arriving at the airport. You're going to feel it," Cox said.
That included Kuky Harrington, from the Cup and Bowl pottery studio in Pueblo, Colo., who said she was "pleasantly surprised" by her first conference visit.
"Overload and fantastic," was how she described the offerings.
And Eduardo Carriazo, a Florida State University graduate student whose eyes lit up when he talked about his piece on display at the Museum of Science and Industry — a mounted collection of 35 other-worldly marine creatures meant to depict the intersection of science, industry and art.
Then there was Matt Evans, from a gallery in Fresno, Calif., who demonstrated his pottery-throwing techniques at the Convention Center.
Splashing wet clay on his messy-beyond-hope denim overalls, Evans turned a gooey hunk into a vase, then a plate, then a bowl, then another plate.
Yoshihide Fujii and Keiichi Shimizu, artists from the Tanpopo-No-Ye arts center in Nara City, Japan, looked on with their cameras poised. Through a translator, Shimizu said he was impressed by such a large event in a city that "has large buildings, but relative to Japan, not a lot of people."
Fujii and Shimizu said they live on the west side of Japan and were not affected by the earthquake and tsunami.
And then there was Conrad Weiser, a 71-year-old retiree from Durham, N.C., whose passion for teapots leads him to the event every year.
"They have pretty high standards," Weiser said of the works included in the show, while taking a picture of a teapot.
Across the Convention Center main hall, artist Dawn Holder, from Hartford, Conn., kneaded a huge expanse of clay into a beach scene, complete with fragile clay sea grass and pier posts covered in shiny green clay mussels.
She aimed to illustrate migration by showing how the grass and crustaceans, both invasive species, can quickly take over a habitat.
At the end of the event on Saturday, Holder said she will invite visitors to pluck mussels from the posts as souvenirs.
Pieces of this temporary community, she imagined, would soon be scattered all over the world.
Times staff writer Waveney Ann Moore contributed to this report. Kim Wilmath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813-226-3337.