To develop, strengthen, and advance the Northern Indiana clay community through support, education, scholarship, and documentation.
We seek to advance the ceramic community and increase awareness of regional artists while building up the next generation of potters through opportunity, scholarship, and relationships.
Over the last fifty years, Northern Indiana has cultivated a strong ceramic tradition through local colleges and universities, established professional artists studios, a community of devoted hobbyists, and a desire to make Michiana a destination for the ceramic arts.
Northern Indiana has come to be recognized as one of the premier clay arts regions within the national craft community and home to many internationally-recognized artists. The Northern Indiana Clay Alliance serves as an organizer of resources within the region, promoting artists, funding programming, and providing opportunities to potters of all ages.
The Northern Indiana Clay Alliance was born out of a ceramic tradition in the region dating back well over 300 years. NICA recognizes that indigenous people from tribes, like Miami and Potawatomi, were utilizing local clay in this region to create for their daily use and trade. The treaty of 1828 forcefully removed many of these native residents who called this area, and the natural resources surrounding, home. There is much more to be learned about the creative use of clay in our region at this time.
As long ago as the 1840’s, the Goshen Democrat newspaper reported manufacturing activity by local potters in the region. Newspapers report that a Frenchman by the name of Paul Kirkdorffer arrived in Goshen around 1844 and pursued a ceramic studio practice until 1852. Additional individuals, such as Jacob and David Dausman, had a combined sawmill and pottery in this same time frame, as the region was rich with resources for both industries.
By the turn of the 20th century, a plant in Elkhart County had been established to collect clay from the nearby river system that runs throughout northern Indiana.
In the late 1960s, Marvin Bartel EdD, arrived at Goshen College and planted the seeds of an expansive “family tree” of potters throughout the Michiana region and beyond. This network of ceramic artists grew through the work of Dick Lehman at Goshen’s Old Bag Factory, Notre Dame’s Bill Kremer, and many others over the course of the next 20+ years.
Suzy Bishop also played a key role in Elkhart County’s growing ceramics scene in the 1970s and 80s. She founded Turkey Creek Pottery in New Paris, and following the completion of a kiln building class at Goshen College, began firing her own work. Her efforts were also recognized as the Goshen Clay Artists Guild got off the ground. Around this time Norma Wysong and Mary Ellen Meyer were also pivotal in the ceramic community growing in this area.
By the 2000s, a new and eager generation of ceramic artists began to sprout up across Northern Indiana. Mark Goertzen had spent a decade working at the Old Bag Factory with Dick Lehman and would eventually purchase the studio. Justin Rothshank returned to Goshen from Pittsburgh where he had co-founded the Union Project, setting up a studio just east of town.
During this period the Goshen Clay Artists’ Guild began to expand and build a notable membership of local artists, educators, and more. A regular class schedule rotated throughout the year offering local residents a place to get their hands into clay.
In 2011 the Michiana Pottery Tour was born with founding members Dick Lehman, Mark Goertzen, and Justin Rothshank ushering in a new era of recognition for the area. Initially focused on artists with Goshen College connections, over the next decade this annual event would expand to include nearly 50 participants across 10 studios in the Michiana region.
Later in 2019, Rothshank and Purdue Fort Wayne professor Seth Green created the Indiana Clay Conference, a biennial event bringing together artists across the state to discuss ideas, make connections, and more.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, ceramic artists across the region sought ways to continue to connect. Against the backdrop of multiple wood firings, Justin Rothshank and Trevor Daugherty began to discuss the idea of a formalized organization to support the diverse network ceramic artists in northern Indiana and southern Michigan.
The Northern Indiana Clay Alliance was established in the fall of 2022 with full 501c3 non-profit status.