On Creative Leaps

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Posted in Tools

“One small change for man, one giant leap for an entire creative community.” Admittedly, it doesn’t have quite the ring of Neil Armstrong’s moon-landing quote, but it does mark a historic step in the development of polymer clay art.

City Zen Cane, Necklace detail with precision caning, 1994Of all the innovations in the medium, perhaps the most consequential and defining one came from the single leap of imagination that made the connection between polymer and a pasta machine. Consider how limited the progress would have been without this facile means to condition stubborn clay. Without it, precision caning would never have been possible nor the Skinner blend which has become a mainstay of the medium.

And consider also that the long arc of historical and artistic progress often has begun with the adaptation of one device for a distinctly unrelated use. Think about the ancient screw-driven wine press, used since Biblical times. Fourteen centuries later, Johannes Gutenberg looked at that common machine and figured out that instead of pressing grapes, it could be used to press inked impressions of words onto paper. Mix in a passage of time and a few creative writers, and what do you get? The New York Times, of course.

Who do we credit for the brilliant cognitive stride that launched our own field of creative interest? How and where did this linkage take place? What would it then lead to?

In 1983, in Escondido, California, Marie Segal had no way of knowing that she was about to make history. Together with her husband, Howard, she owned and operated the Clay Factory, which had been a kind of Eden for the small group of Fimo enthusiasts in the San Diego area. From her headquarters, Marie would dispense each day not only product, but information, guidance and nurturing as well.

One morning, she saw in front of her a mound of clay that needed flattening. If this had been a normal day, she would have picked up the marble rolling pin, that trusty staple of the kitchen she had used hundreds of times over the years. Pie crust, Fimo, what’s the difference?

But this day was not like every other day. “Sheeting clay…there’s got to be a better way.”  Within minutes, Marie envisioned a pasta machine taking over from the old hand tool. She purchased her first Atlas and used it for the next ten years, “until it fell apart.” During that time, she spread her new gospel throughout California and then the country: “It works; try it.”

Never would creativity with polymer clay be the same. Using kitchen gadgets and gizmos as artistic tools. Anything else in those cabinets and drawers that might be of use to us?  It wasn’t too long before the next brainstorm…of course, the food chopper! Look for the history of that development in my next post.