Alabama Clay Conference takes over Columbiana

Published 5:21 pm Monday, February 21, 2022

By SASHA JOHNS | Community Columnist

COLUMBIANA – Clay artists from all over the Southeast converged on Columbiana at the Shelby County Arts Council Feb. 17-19 for the 37th annual Alabama Clay Conference.

The sold out conference was put on by the Alabama Visual Artist Network (ALVAN), a nonprofit that focuses on “the appreciation of visual art and the role it plays in the economic vitality and quality of life of Alabama communities.”

This year’s conference boasted four main presenters that are at the top of their field nationwide: Benjie Hue, Adero Willard, Paul Wandless, and Tim See.

Hue was one of who finished the details of an art installation that represented his life’s work in the facility’s EBSCO Gallery.

“This is technically several bodies of work from over the years,” he said. “It’s really a personal narrative of my life and experiences and includes some of my early work as well as some of my recent work.”

He went on to tell say that much of his new work was inspired by some of the worldwide events of the last few years.

Hue is a native Alabamian from Huntsville who went to school with the Arts Council’s own Nelson Grice. Together they studied under artist Ted Metz.

Hue is now a professor at Southeast Missouri State.

In addition to the main presenters, the conference hosted a wide variety of workshops for its attendees from career building in clay arts to various techniques in the field.

Vendors for potters and ceramicists were also on site to talk shop and offer supplies to the artists, and finished pottery by local artists was also available for purchase.

Conference goer Agnes Stark, from Memphis, has been to five of the conferences over the years.

She said she kept coming back because of how well the event was run.

“It’s a wonderful conference, not too far from home, and I always learn so much,” Stark said.

The conference was also a great opportunity for the Main Street District of Columbiana, as the conference brought close to 160 guests and volunteers to the small town. Conference goers were encouraged to get out and enjoy the quaint town’s shops and dining during scheduled free time.

“It’s easy to get isolated as an artist. You spend so much time alone creating,” conference volunteer Donnalee Blankenship said. “This is a great way to get out and connect with other artists and get refreshed.”

Plans are already underway for next year’s Clay Conference which will be held in Auburn. To find out more about the Alabama Visual Arts Network and the Clay Conference visit