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Working Small: The International Orton Cone Box Show

As I look over toward my secretary as I type, I see my tiny box collection. The miniatures are made of wood and metal. Some contain surprises, others are empty. Some are decorated, others are plain. I am not alone in my quest for tiny art objects. The First National Orton Cone Box Show opened in 1975 at Purdue University. Pyrometric cones. The show was the brainchild of a ceramics professor, Bill Bracker. He was inspired by a collection of tiny ceramic pots a student had made and stored in a cigar box. Seeing the collection of small objects made Bracker remember all the odds and ends he stored in pyrometric cone boxes. An idea surfaced and Bill’s colleagues encouraged him to pursue the idea: a juried show for small ceramic pieces that would fit in an Orton cone box. The year was 1974. “A show of miniatures would be a perfect opportunity for a juror to adjudicate the actual pieces while still keeping shipping and handling costs down for artist entries,” according to the Orton Cone Box Show site. Bracker approached the Edward Orton Jr. Ceramic Foundation about sponsoring a show, which they did. Pieces in the show measure  3″ x 3″ x 6″ or 75 mm x 75 mm x 150 mm, the size of an Orton’s Large Cone Box. “The show experienced a period of inactivity following the departure of Bill Bracker from Purdue University shortly after the third show,” according to Wikipedia. Inge Balch, a professor of Art at Baker University, in Baldwin, Kansas, asked Bracker to revive the show. That was in 1993.  Since then, it’s become a bi-annual event. In 2010, the show opened at the Lawrence Art Center, in Lawrence, Kansas, and the exhibit traveled to Tampa, Florida this spring, for the annual conference of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA). The show is now an international event. Here are some links, one and two, which give more information and show photos of entries. According to the  entry form for 2010,

  • all artists are eligible to submit up to two pieces
  • the entry fee is $35
  • each piece must be able to fit into an Orton Cone Box (3″ x 3″ x 6″) but it doesn’t have to be mailed in a cone box
  • all entries must be available for purchase
  • all entries must be composed of a minimum 50% clay
  • all work must be original
  • no single work must exceed $200 in value
  • pieces will be sold or returned by UPS
  • nominal prizes are awarded

The NCECA conference in Tampa took place this March 30-April 2, so the show just closed. The Orton cone box exhibition featured 100 artists, 150 pieces, with 11 countries represented. In addition to Edward Orton Jr. Ceramics Foundation and the Lawrence Art Center, the 2010 show was sponsored by Brackers Good Earth Clay. Bracker, along with his wife, started a pottery and pottery supply business in the early 1980s. He passed away in 1993, but Anne Wuest Brackers continued the business and sponsorship of the show. The Orton Cone Box Show is an interesting story which illustrates the power of one, Bill Bracker.

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