All fired up

Visitors contemplate clay (while clay contemplates herself) at the opening-night reception.

Visitors contemplate clay (while clay contemplates herself) at the opening-night reception.

It’s no easy feat to be a juror of the annual Feats of Clay competition in Lincoln. Just ask artist Judith Duff, who confessed that it was an “overwhelming task.” She reviewed more than 1,500 slides this spring in order to select the 75 pieces that make up this year’s Feats of Clay XIX.

Sponsored by the Lincoln Arts and Culture Foundation, Feats has been an event to look forward to each year since 1988, and not just because the country’s finest ceramic artists vie for inclusion. There’s also the venue—one of the most unique in the nation.

Millennia ago, rivers meandered down the continent and deposited tons of buried treasure (clay) in what is now the fast-growing hamlet of Lincoln. Founded there in 1875, the Gladding, McBean terra-cotta factory continues to produce vitrified sewer pipe, brick, roof tiles, architectural features and garden pottery that adorns homes and buildings around the world. Feats is displayed inside Gladding, McBean and enhanced by the gas-fired beehive and shuttle kilns in different stages of firing, some with flames shooting dramatically into the massive ovens.

Thankfully, one kiln is cool, and it houses half of the exhibit. Stepping inside, one sees that Gerard Justin Ferrari’s whimsical, iron-oxide-treated clay teapot, “Rolling Derby Bird,” is poised and ready for takeoff. Jill Brugler’s “Spirit Guide” is a polychrome, low-fire bust of a female, an amalgamation of different cultures with a bird perched on her shoulder.

To see the rest of the show, visitors pass through the rows of kilns and take a 100-year-old elevator to the plant’s third floor. The trip offers a taste of the building’s history and a whiff of the perfume of clay.

Admission is by pre-registered tour from 9 a.m. to noon, Wednesdays through Sundays until May 28. Tickets are $10 and are limited to those ages 12 and older. Visitors are transported from Lincoln Arts, located at 580 Sixth Street in Lincoln. For more information or to make reservations, call (916) 645-9713 or visit