As a professor of ceramics at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, Bill Bracker had access to all of the ceramic department facilities, but he had a studio and salt kiln at his home because he wanted his students to use all the space they could in the university studio and kilns. One of the neighborhood kids, Jerry Evans, expressed an interest in pottery, so Bill allowed Jerry a limited amount of kiln space in exchange for helping keep the studio clean, performing other studio grunt work, and helping to fire the salt kiln. Jerry maximized his firing space by making tiny pots, much like the small draw rings he helped Bill make and pull from each firing. After just a few firings, Jerry proudly showed Bill a cigar box full of his miniature pots enough pieces for an entire exhibit in one small box! Bill immediately thought of all the times he himself had stored draw rings, fired mud dauber nests, used cones, and small ceramic pieces in cone boxes. The cigar box full of Jerrys pots also reminded him of his ceramic sketchpads, which were actually four shadow boxes filled with miniature versions of different forms and styles of his pottery.
In 1974, while doing a workshop at Drake University, Bill was encouraged by Lee Ferber and Richard Peeler, fellow ceramic teachers, to pursue the idea of a juried show for miniature ceramic pieces. A potter can have great slides of a not-so-great pot or lousy slides of a great pot, but a juror may never know until the actual piece is seen in person. A show of miniatures would be a perfect opportunity for a juror to adjudicate the actual pieces while still keeping shipping and handling costs down for artist entries. The question of size limitation was almost a foregone decision because of Bills history with storing little pots in the Orton Standard Cone Boxes, a 3 x 3 x 6 box that potters quickly accumulated in almost every studio. Although he could get some support for the show through Purdue University (where he still taught), he knew he needed additional sponsorship. Approaching Orton Ceramic Foundation was the next logical step, both for sponsorship as well as approval for the size designation. The proposal was funded and the Orton Cone Box Show became a reality in 1975.
The First National Cone Box Show was held at Purdue University in September 1975 in conjunction with the 1975 Midwest Ceramic Art and Material Symposium. Bill asked Gary Fuller, of the Purdue School of Engineering, to coordinate the show with him. Ellen Canavier, crafts coordinator of the visual art program for the National Endowment of the Arts, served as juror for the show and selected 153 pieces to exhibit from over 300 entries. The exhibition was on display at Purdue Creative Arts Gallery, September 12 – October 15, 1975.
The Second National Cone Box Show, supported again by the Orton Foundation, was held at the University of Kansas Student Union Gallery, March 21 – April 21, 1977. Bill had accepted a position in the ceramics department of the University of Kansas starting in 1975, so it seemed logical to move the show with Bill. The University of Kansas was as supportive as Purdue University had been. Marj and Richard Peeler, production potters from Reelsville, IN, juried the show and selected 294 pieces to exhibit from nearly 900 entries. Bill, confident that the exhibit should gain the attention of an even wider audience, persuaded the University of Kansas Division of Continuing Education to sponsor a 2 year traveling exhibition selected from the Second National Orton Cone Box Show. Jim Nabors, director of the Art Museum Program of the Division of Continuing Education, coordinated this traveling exhibition. The traveling show consisted of 120 pieces which were secured in plexiglass cases. Twenty-seven locations in five states exhibited the traveling show.
The Third National Cone Box Show, again generously supported by Orton, was exhibited at the KU Art and Design gallery, April 29 – May 7, 1979. Some rule changes were implemented for this show. The major change, allowing artists to submit only one entry, was necessitated by the large number of entries, growing from over 300 submissions in 1975 to 900 in 1977. This one entry must still fit into a standard Orton Cone Box, must be comprised of at least 50% fired clay, have been created as an original work of art within the last two years, be for sale (not exceeding $100), and be available for a 2 year tour with the traveling show. The entry fee at the time was only $5.00. The number of jurors was also increased from two to four to produce a show of greater breadth and appeal. John Ground (professor of ceramics at Millersville State College), Glenn Rand (professor of photography and ceramics at Colorado Mountain College), Jim Nabors (director of the Art Museum Program at the University of Kansas), and Bill served as jurors and selected 127 pieces to exhibit from over 400 entries. Purchase, Merit, and Value awards totaling over $1700 were awarded to 29 artists. The traveling show included 103 of those pieces.
The show experienced a period of inactivity following the departure of Bill Bracker from Kansas University shortly after the third show. In 1993 Inge Balch, Professor of Art at Baker University, Kansas, asked Bill for his blessing to revive the show.
With the support of both Orton and the University the fourth show opened in 1994 at the Holt-Russell Gallery at Baker University. Now open to entries from across the global artists from several countries exhibited. The jurors were Bill Hunt, Margaret Carney and Yoshiro Ikeda. Subsequently the Cone Box Show has become a biennial event. The 2010 International Cone Box Show premiered at the Lawrence Arts Center in October. In the following spring (2011), it was shown at the 2011 NCECA conference in Tampa, Florida.
Past Jurors of the International Cone Box Show:
1975, Purdue University Ellen Canavier
1977, Kansas University Marj Peeler, Richard Peeler, Bill Bracker
1979, Kansas University John Ground, Glenn Rand, Jim Nabors, Bill Bracker
1994, Baker University Bill Hunt, Margaret Carney, Yoshiro Ikeda
1996, Baker University Karen Karnes, Judy Schwartz, Brad Schweiger
1998, Baker University Michael Simon, Harris Deller, Anna Calluori Holcombe
2000, Baker University Nina Hole, Jeff Oestreich, Richard Notkin
2002, Baker University Mitsuo Shoji, Wilfredo Torres, Inge Balch
2004, Baker University Janet Mansfield, Phil Rogers, Inge Balch
2006, Baker University Steven Hill, Inge Balch
2008, Baker University Bede Clarke, John Neely, Inge Balch
2010, Lawrence Arts Center Peter Callas, Malcom Davis, Inge Balch
2012, Lawrence Arts Center Tom Coleman, Patti Warashina, Inge Balch
2016, Hilliard Gallery Greg Daly, Garth Clark, Inge Balch