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Lincoln Arts tours highlight city

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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Know and Go: What: Annual Feats of Clay juried art show tours When: May 4 through May 30 Where: Gladding, McBean Factory on G and 7th streets Admission: $10 Lincoln Arts members, $12 nonmembers Information: 645-9713 or online at lincolnarts.org Lincoln Arts tours highlight city I enjoyed every minute sitting eight rows behind the “American Idol” judges last Thursday with my daughter. Show tickets can’t be bought. Usually, you have to be a celebrity or know someone who works for Fox or is related to the contestants. According to “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest last Thursday, the show is ranked No. 1. For the show’s 1 ½-hour taping, I saw what it’s like to be among the rich, the famous and the glamorous. And it was fun. All reality vanished, at least for the 90 minutes we were in a West Hollywood TV studio watching a reality show. Twenty-four hours later, my own “reality” returned as I started thinking about my responsibilities back home in Lincoln with individuals not in the celebrity crowd but nonetheless just as interesting and hardworking. And I realized that Lincoln has its own “No. 1” attraction, currently in season. During the Feats of Clay month-long tours from May 4 to May 30, residents are invited into the 136-year-old Gladding, McBean factory. The factory is closed to the public 11 months of the year. Lincoln Arts sponsors the tours as the nonprofit organization’s annual top fundraiser. Attendees also see a juried ceramic show of 80 pieces selected by artists throughout the United States and Canada. As spectators walk to the Feats of Clay competition split between the first and second floors, they view rows of pipes and other Gladding, McBean products in various production stages. On weekday tours, spectators see Gladding, McBean workers in action. Today, between 150 and 250 employees work on architectural terra-cotta restoration, according to Lincoln Arts executive director Claudia Renati. Stepping into the block-long factory, residents are transported back to another century, before computers, cell phones and Instant Messaging were our work tools. That’s because the factory, formerly Lincoln’s largest employer, still runs the same way as it did more than a hundred years ago. The Gladding, McBean facility has operated continually since May 12, 1875 on G and 7th streets, creating firebrick, roof tile, chimney pipes, sculptures and ornamental garden pottery shipped around the world. “Everything is done as the factory workers did it 136 years ago,” Renati said. And it still works. “It’s very exciting to see people coming through on the tours,” said Lincoln Arts president June Reeves. “I see men walking in with their wives, grumpy walking in, but when they come out, the men are totally true believers, to see something made in America.” Renati stressed that Gladding, McBean is one of the “last manufacturers” in the United States. “It’s a perfect example of everything made from Lincoln,” Renati said. “All the clay used is from Lincoln.” The tours attracted several thousands of visitors last year, according to Renati, the majority coming from outside the Sacramento area. While neither Lincoln Arts nor city of Lincoln staff can provide a figure on how many dollars is pumped into the local economy because of the month-long tours, it stands to reason that the local economy is receiving a boost. A quote given to The News Messenger’s art columnist Paul Apfel by Amanda Norton, the city’s housing and special projects coordinator, illustrates that point. Apfel asked Norton if she could provide an estimate of the sales tax revenues the city derives from the May tours. While Norton didn’t have specific numbers, she indicated the city is helped by the tours. “But the city of Lincoln realizes the benefits derived from having over 3,000 people visit Lincoln each year to tour the factory and visit our retail business,” Norton e-mailed. “The greatest impact financially is probably not in the direct sales created by Lincoln Arts, but in the realization of those guests eating in our restaurants, shopping in our stores, buying gas at our convenience stations, spending the night in our hotel, and seeing the beauty of our community and hopefully coming back at a future date. If we use the typical multiplier of $2.7 per person, that equates to over $10,000 of taxable sales produced by Feats of Clay.” Whatever the actual number is, Lincoln is positively impacted. And taking the tour is a fun way to support the arts, basically in our backyard. “We’d like to raise $90,000 this month,” Renati said. This year’s art pieces seem more playful, from a plumber’s nightmare, which resembles a teapot; to an “optimistic luggage” to a Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz tribute. Seeing the colorful, mostly whimsical and sometimes elegant, ceramic pieces is an easy way to break out a smile. The Feats of Clay tours aren’t glitzy like Hollywood. But that’s the beauty of the tours and Gladding, McBean. It’s real Americana. And it’s Lincoln. Carol Feineman can be reached at carolf@goldcountrymedia.com.