For these ceramic artists, it’s a small world after all

? Don’t let the tiny vacuum fool you.

The sweeper may be small – it fits in a box measuring 3-by-3-by-6 inches – but that doesn’t mean it’s simple to make.

“I probably made 120 different pieces trying to come up with the right one,” says Todd Cero-Atl, the artist and Kansas University graduate student who made the vacuum. “I’ve never worked this small ever in my life. It’s a really good exercise. It was really difficult for me.”

That was the challenge that faced the artists from 11 countries who made the 600 entries to this year’s Orton International Cone Box Show, which opens Tuesday at Baker University’s Holt-Russell Gallery.

The 184 entries selected for the show are made of at least 50 percent fired clay and fit in the box used to hold an Orton Standard Pyrometric Cone, which is used to measure the temperature inside a kiln. The show includes a variety of sculptures, teapots, sake sets, perfume bottles, vases and even whistles.

“There’s nothing really common between the pieces,” says Erin Wilson, a Baker senior who had a sculpture of a monster selected for the show. “They like to see pieces that are MADE to fit in a cone box rather than those that just fit into a cone box.”

The show, which take place every two years, is organized by Inge Balch, professor of art at Baker. Balch and Steven Hill, a ceramist at Red Star Studios in Kansas City, Mo., juried this year’s show.

The pieces made their debut earlier this month at the National Council for the Education of Ceramic Arts’ annual conference. It will be at Baker until April 21.

The pieces then are headed to the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft and Highland Community College. Other exhibitions may be scheduled.

“It’s a really, really good exhibition every two years,” says Derek Larsen, a KU graduate student and show participant. “I can’t think of another show I’ve been to where you can see 200 other artists’ works. You can see what people from all over the world are doing.”

Larsen’s piece is a small carved face.

“I think it’s challenging as an artist to work that small and make something that’s powerful,” he says.

Bill Bracker, then a ceramics professor at Purdue, organized the first Cone Box Show there in 1975. He then moved to KU and organized two shows before retiring in 1979, when the show was discontinued.

Cone Box Show

What: 184 ceramic artworks that fit inside a 3-by-3-by-6-inch box
Who: Artists from 11 countries
Reception: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday; continues through April 21
Where: Holt-Russell Gallery, Parmenter Hall, Baker University, Baldwin
Hours: 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday

He continued in ceramics, however, opening Good Earth Ceramics, which now is at 1831 E. 1450 Road.

Balch, who became acquainted with the Bracker family while studying at Kansas State University, approached Bracker about reviving the show in the early 1990s.

“When Bill was diagnosed with cancer in 1993, I convinced him that we needed to let it come down here and make it international,” Balch said.

Bracker died that same year, but the show continues. Bracker’s widow, Anne W. Bracker, and two daughters, Cindy and Anne M., continue to participate in the show.

“Inge involves me. She is an incredible person, artist and friend,” Anne W. Bracker says. “It’s emotional. It means that Bill’s concept continues.”