A Name You May Not Know

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Posted in Artist's Commentary, Publications

On this blog I suspect there will be some kind words said about me as the person who — by hook or by crook or by waving a magic wand — cajoled some naïve publisher into printing The New Clay at a time when almost nobody in America could identify the meaning of the phrase, “polymer clay.”

For anybody who learned from or was inspired by “the Bible,” as it has been called in our community, let me properly share the credit for its creation. The book was birthed not by me alone; there was a man involved, a brilliant and visionary soul whose name I hope you remember and respect: Seymour Bress.

The New Clay by Nan Roche, Flower Valley Press, 1991I came to know Seymour through his wife, Helene, an old friend and textile artist who had signed up for one of the first polymer clay classes I ever taught. At that time, and this was long before Amazon.com., Seymour ran a mail-order business selling craft books. If you wanted to locate a rare book on beading, or coverlets, you stood a better chance if you knew Seymour’s postal address.

Over the supper table one night, Helene mused with her husband about her interest in my class, and mentioned to him that curiously, most curiously, there weren’t any books on the market where she could find out information about this new substance, polymer clay. My name was mentioned and it wasn’t long after that Helene approached me with the idea that “you should write this book.”

My first reaction was to try to wriggle out of any involvement in this alien world of publication, to squirm against the hook that Helene had so forcefully sunk into my vulnerable skin. Talks with Seymour followed, and after a few sessions it was clear to all of us that I was a gonner; professionally reeled in and taken on board.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have fought so hard, because with Seymour in charge of the publication, I was in the safest and most caring of hands. Somewhere during this time, Flower Valley Press became a commercial enterprise and I was in line to become one of its first authors. In terms of the publication business, let’s file Seymour under the category of “unusual.”  He was less interested in making money than in making history; focused not on bottom-line sales, but on producing books of quality, publications with staying power.

Perhaps because his wife was an artist, he had faith in the inherent value of crafts and craftsmen. He knew how difficult it could be for artists to work with publishers, how a few harsh words could bury a creative idea. He lived with a fundamental belief in giving artists and especially writers free reign of creative expression. When the nagging demons of doubt were shouting at me, insisting that entire sections of my book should be put to the torch, along came Seymour’s calming words: “Yeah, yeah, we’ve got to have that… We need your-depth information, not a bunch of recipes.”

It’s been six years since Seymour Bress died. With this post, I’m still paying respect to a man who believed in me, and believed in the artistic merit of polymer clay artists. If you ever speak my name in relation to The New Clay, I hope you will mention Seymour’s name as well in that same sentence.