South Carolina Clay Conference is a success

Elyssa Haven for The Newberry Observer
2018 SC Clay Conference Presenter Shadow May prepares for a break-out session at the Newberry Arts Center Clay Studio. - Courtesy photo

NEWBERRY — Before the sun set on this year’s South Carolina Clay Conference (SCCC), the Newberry Arts Center had already started plans for their fifth year of hosting the conference which will take place in 2019.

Marquerite Palmer, arts and special programs coordinator for the city, said she thinks this year was exciting with fantastic presenters and a good turnout.

“We think we had a few more visitors than last year,” Palmer said.

Last year, Palmer said they tried to keep track of visitors with a sign-in sheet. However, this year they were very busy and sign-ins became too hard to track. Approximately 200 visitors came in to shop the conference’s pottery sale at the Newberry Arts Center last year, and Palmer thinks this year they well surpassed that mark.

New to the conference this year, Palmer said was the additional space for their annual pottery sale. Instead of solely selling pottery at the Newberry Arts Center, they were able to open up the space next door at 1202 Main Street for additional displays from the conference presenters.

“We were able to display a lot more of the work from our presenters because we used that extra space,” Palmer said. “It was super nice to be able to have that so we could have a lot more displayed.”

The pottery sale ran from 10 a.m. on the Friday of the conference until 6 p.m. the next day. Inside of the arts center was art that had been created by those who had paid to be a part of the conference.

“When you bought a ticket to the conference, you get the option of whether or not you want to participate in the pottery sale,” said Mary Alex Kopp, tourism and events coordinator for the city.

Kopp along with Sharon Graham in the city’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism department helped out during the pottery sale.

Of the 54 attendees of the SCCC this year, Kopp said 37 of them participated in the pottery sale, which did not include the conference’s presenters’ work.

Graham said she felt it was almost a 50/50 split of new and returning people of those who participated in this year’s pottery sale.

“It was really good to see some of the same ones who have been here every year, but good to see new, fresh faces as well,” Graham said.

An estimated $10,000 was raised from this year’s pottery sale, with 25% of those funds going back to the Newberry Arts Center for future programming and other needs. Kopp said that number was close to what was raised from last year’s conference.

When attendees arrive at the Firehouse Conference Center to sign in for the SCCC, Graham said they each receive a packet filled with brochures on restaurants and shops in downtown Newberry, as well as coupons, visitors guides and the latest Newberry Magazine.

“Anything we think they can use to learn more about Newberry while at the conference,” Graham said.


This year’s presenters included Lisa Orr, Shadow May and Michael Kline and Palmer thought they did a fantastic job with the diverse group that attended the conference this year.

At the end of the SCCC, Palmer said they hold what they call a “community forum,” where the presenters and attendees discuss the importance of building community amongst the ‘clay community’ of South Carolina.

“What we heard from all was that they were really happy with the diverse group that we had,” she said.

Instead of attendees watching presenters all weekend, Palmer said this year they got more hands-on experience. Kits had been prepackaged and went to each attendee so that they could practice some of the techniques being shown by the presenters.

Two breakout sessions were also held at this year’s conference, which gave even further insight into what attendees were learning about throughout the weekend.

Looking Forward

With next year being the clay conference’s fifth year, city staff have a few ideas on how to expand and further improve the overall experience for attendees.

Kopp said as for the pottery sale, they hope to invite past presenters back to display their work as a part of the conference, whether it is before sale or strictly for display. Currently Kopp said they have a ‘bone yard’ which contains pieces that were created/fired at the pottery studio while presenters were at the SCCC on display and they plan to take those years’ worth of pieces to have them on display.

“We want to list each presenter and when they were here,” Kopp said.

Another idea that came about after this year’s conference Graham said was to include handouts about the different types of firing and other techniques that go into making a pottery piece.

“We often see people confused on the pricing of pottery pieces, and we want to explain the processes and sometimes how long it takes a potter to make one piece,” Graham said.

Kopp said they want to offer an exhibit aspect to the pottery sale in the future to educate the community about clay so even if they walk in knowing nothing about art or pottery, they can come in, observe and also learn and have a better appreciation for what each artist is doing.

Palmer said she was approached this year by the McKissick Museum, that is a part of the University of South Carolina, to potentially be a future partner with them at the SCCC.

“They feel that this conference has a state impact, not just a local impact in Newberry,” Palmer said.

Palmer said she truly feels the SCCC was something that was needed because of the acceptance of it and the amount of growth it has seen. The overall success, she said she attributes to the city’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism staff for the way they come together and the volunteers that pitch in with the Newberry Arts Center.

Another aspect that makes the conference unique, Palmer said, is that it brings in presenters from around the country that attendees may not otherwise have access to learn from.

Finally, what makes Newberry a great location and aids in the conference’s success, Palmer believes, is that attendees can go to their hotel after they check in, park their car and never have to get in their car until they leave to go back home.

“Everything they do as far as eating, from going to the Firehouse Conference Center and the clay studio is done within walking distance,” Palmer said. “Everyone just loves Newberry.”

2018 SC Clay Conference Presenter Shadow May prepares for a break-out session at the Newberry Arts Center Clay Studio. SC Clay Conference Presenter Shadow May prepares for a break-out session at the Newberry Arts Center Clay Studio. Courtesy photo

Elyssa Haven for The Newberry Observer