Playing With Dirt

04 Jun 2024

The Bascom Clay Symposium

By Kristin Landfield

Situated within the spectacular mountain landscape of the southern Appalachians, Highlands, NC, is renowned for its distinct charm. Visitors seeking cool summer days, lavish vegetation and stunning vistas have long gathered in Highlands during the warmer months. Its unique atmosphere has allowed this singular town to burgeon into a center for culture and the arts, despite its modest size. Few small towns can boast the cultural offerings that have become a fundamental part of Highlands’ character. For over 30 years, The Bascom: A Center for the Visual Arts has contributed a central piece to Highlands’ distinct culture.

In 1983, The Bascom opened as a one-room exhibition space in the Hudson Library. Today, the arts center occupies a 6-acre property in the heart of Highlands, formerly a horse farm. The compound itself is inspiring, with a 28,000-square-foot main building offering exhibition and event spaces, inviting terraces, classrooms, offices and a retail outlet. Adjacent, the Dave Drake Studio Barn provides an atelier for potters and three-dimensional arts, all accessed from Main Street through an early 19th century, 87-foot-long covered bridge. The Bascom’s special property, with its open meadows and forest acreage, backs up to protected lands. Visitors encounter sculpture installations and can access quiet walking trails. Its vibrant spirit represents the same appeal that broadly defines western North Carolina.

This year, on September 27th and 28th, The Bascom continues its annual Bascom Clay Symposium (formerly the Three Potters Symposium) at the Dave Drake Studio Barn. Now in its 14th year, this September’s 2024 edition will showcase animal and figurative ceramic sculpture, highlighting the talents of artists Christine Kosiba, Andréa Keys Connell and Taylor Robenalt.

The Bascom’s Executive Director Karin Peterson describes the event, “North Carolina (and especially western North Carolina) has long been a home for clay artists [where] both the traditions and innovations of American clay history are alive in our region. Each year, the Bascom Clay Symposium celebrates this legacy by bringing together clay artists to share their works and their practice among each other and an audience of fellow practitioners and enthusiasts. The symposium focuses on both their processes and the finished work, giving visitors a unique window into the world of the makers. Through this event, we hope to play a part in building visibility and recognition of the creators who make their livelihood in our region. This year’s keynote speaker, Stephanie Moore of the Center for Craft (Asheville), will highlight the contributions of North Carolina to the larger American Craft movement. Due to the generosity of our sponsors, the symposium is free to all and is an event for those who want to drop in or participate in the entire event. In addition, during the symposium, the artists bring works for sale—items not regularly available in our retail space.”

The Artists

Ceramicist Taylor Robenalt’s methodical approach to ceramic sculpture incorporates a diverse range of techniques, wherein she fabricates individual clay parts, and then later assembles them into unified compositions. Taylor will focus on delicate features in flora and fauna, integrated as a meticulously crafted sculpture that depicts a symbolic narrative. Taylor will explore the nuances of shape language, emphasizing the importance of faces adorned with highly refined features. She will narrate her creative journey, imparting insights into her artistic process with the challenges and rewards of working in the delicate yet enchanting medium of porcelain.

Ceramics sculptor Christine Kosiba describes the objectives for her symposium demonstration, during which she will offer insight into technical aspects of animal representation, "My sculptures take form through various hand building techniques. I incorporate coiling, building solid on an armature and modifying pinch pots in my studio practice. During the symposium, I will demo working solid on an armature and with modified pinch pots. I will be incorporating animal imagery focusing on basic anatomy, expression and gesture."

Artist Andréa Keys Connell is an associate professor of ceramics in the Department of Art at Appalachian State University. Her work has been displayed at such esteemed venues as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art. She describes her work, “Figurines are sentimental, mass-produced and often kitschy objects. However, what the collector feels for these objects is complex, deep and often can be traced to their initial acquisition of the figurine. Usually, such objects arrived in their possession to commemorate a birth, a death, an anniversary or significant moment. They become a stand-in for a story.” While Andréa’s sculptures could not easily fit into a display cabinet, she nevertheless identifies them as figurines that express narrative and convey the emotion of a moment. Her figures relate stories reflective of motherhood, grief, cycles and the passage of time.

To find out more about the Bascom Clay Symposium, or to support The Bascom, go to, where you can also learn about their many events and sign up for their newsletter.

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