The Renaissance of Polymer Clay

March 16, 2010 at 11:18 pm (Artist Musings)

Louise Fischer Cozzi, 2010 Niche Award Finalist

In 2006, I exhibited my work at The American Craft Council Baltimore Fine Craft Show. After my husband walked the show and saw the fabulous work of Kathleen Dustin, Steven Ford and David Forlano, and Louise Fischer Cozzi, he turned to me and said, “this moment in time is truly the renaissance of polymer clay.” Little did he know then how prophetic his comment was.

At last month’s Synergy II polymer clay conference, hosted by the International Polymer Clay Association, Bruce Pepich, Executive Director and Curator of Collections for the Racine Art Museum (RAM) compared the polymer clay movement to the glass art movement.

“The glass art movement was, at one point in its history, where we are today. Pepich talked about the undeniable fact that the glass art movement’s successful evolution has culminated in an important body of ‘competent, respected work that has broken boundaries’ in the fine craft world. He went on to say that it is time for us to ‘think much broader than the medium’; time to ‘pull as many resources and references as possible outside of the techniques.’ ” [Susan Lomuto, Daily Art Muse Blog, Synergy II, Part I: In Pursuit of Excellence — The Evolution of a Medium]

Elise Winters, 2010 Niche Award Finalist

Pepich, with the help of polymer clay artist Elise Winters,  is currently planning a major museum exhibition complete with hardcover catalog to accompany the establishment of a permanent collection of polymer art at RAM. When their vision is realized, RAM will become the national center for the elevation, exhibition, and academic study of the polymer clay medium. To support the polymer clay collection at RAM, visit the Polymer Art Archive, a website set up by Winters to record the artistic history of polymer clay and serve as a resource for museum curators, collectors, publication editors and art historians. Winters writes, “It would give me delight to know that can be found on thousands of ‘Favorites’ lists of those desiring to discover not just the FACTS about ART made from POLYMER, but also to achieve a greater understanding about the origins and relationships that have generated wonderful polymer art in our time..” [Polymer Art Archive]

Winters, a champion of polymer clay, realized a long time ago that polymer would mature into a respected art form. And it has.

In 2005, 2006, and 2007, I was one of a handful of polymer artists nominated for a NICHE Award. In 2008, Polymer Clay was added as its own award category. Last year, ten polymer works of art were recognized as  Niche Award Finalists, not only in the polymer category, but also in the fashion jewelry, sculpture-to-wear, home furnishings/teapots, and fiber/baskets categories.  Last month, Jeffrey Lloyd Dever, Sandra McCaw, and Melanie West all took home the 2010 Niche Award in their respective categories.

Jeffrey Lloyed Dever, 2010 Niche Award, Decorative Category

Jeffrey Lloyed Dever, 2010 Niche Award, Teapots Category

Sandra McCaw, 2010 Niche Award, Fashion Jewelry Category

Melanie West, 2010 Niche Award, Polymer Clay Category

In addition to award recognition, polymer has graced the runway. Winters’ polymer Ruffles necklace was seen on the runway during Cynthia Rowley’s show at last month’s New York Fashion Week.

While polymer is earning its place as a respected medium in the fine craft movement, polymer artists are still challenged with the fact that in some  circles, it is still considered a children’s toy. Unlike other mediums, or its glass counterpart, it is inexpensive, widely available, and doesn’t require many (if any) special tools, equipment, or instruction. 

This might be one of the reasons why at last month’s Synergy II Conference, Pepich challenged polymer artists to pursue excellence in their work.

“Pepich boldly challenged us, saying ‘Don’t be afraid of excellence.’ A glorious challenge, perhaps matched only by Kathleen Dustin’s when she asked the polymer artists present to consider making a museum quality piece as a way of elevating their own work and assisting the medium on its journey,” writes Susan Lomuto on her Daily Art Muse blog.     

Over the last year, I have been trying to pursue excellence in my own polymer clay work, a challenge I embraced last March after taking a workshop with Dan Cormier, who also was a presenter at last month’s Synergy II conference. Prior to taking Cormier’s workshop, I had done wholesale show after wholesale show, cranking out production pieces for galleries and boutiques, many of which subsequently went out of business or never ordered from me again. The process in creating my wholesale body of work was of course getting to the end product and getting it out the door. The focus of Cormier’s class, however, was the process itself. What I took away from Cormier’s workshop was that if you are diligent during every step of the process, the end result will be a “museum quality piece”, something I have been working toward ever since.

I didn’t have the pleasure of attending last month’s Synergy II conference, but I will be curious to see how polymer as a medium continues to evolve and how the artists using this medium continue to pursue excellence in their own work.


1 Comment

  1. Luanna Blaich said,

    You made several good points in this article.


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