In 1987, at the Torpedo Factory Art Center in the Washington, D.C. area, I taught my first workshop on polymer bead-making based on the simple techniques I had developed. On the advice of an artist colleague, I submitted a short article to Ornament magazine. Published in 1988, my article was entitled “The Use of Polyform in Bead-making.” (my usage of the word “polyform” reflected my misunderstanding of the generic name of polymer clay at that time.) The article briefly discussed the material and its properties, described the millefiore techniques and displayed images of my own work. A significant effect of my article was to enable other isolated polymer pioneers of the time to realize that they were not alone in exploring the medium for bead-making, and that others had been developing the crucial millefiore technique independently.
The next year, 1989, Jamey Allen expanded on the polymer millefiore technique he’d devised in another Ornament article.
In fact, Ornament magazine went on to publish a total of fourteen articles (to date) on polymer clay artists and their work, as well as a series of “Master Class” articles by Victoria Hughes, Pier Voulkos and Steven Ford.
The critical support of this magazine, in the author’s opinion, enabled polymer clay to be taken seriously as a bead-making medium and played a vital role in promoting the widespread use of polymer in bead-making that we see today.
Inspired by my polymer clay bead-making workshop, Nan Roche, also of the Washington, D.C. area, took off in her own direction with polymer clay and within three years had published The New Clay (Flower Valley Press, 1991), the seminal work on polymer clay art and bead-making which remains a staple on the book shelves of arts and crafts supply stores around the world. Lindly Haunani, another student in my workshop, joined with others to found the National Polymer Clay Guild in 1990. Thus began the true flowering of polymer work in the United States.
Other early leaders in the medium were people like Marie Segal who began making figures in 1980-81 and who introduced the use of the pasta machine. Also Maureen Carlson who began creating gnomes and little people with Fimo in 1979. And Katherine Dewey who in 1978 began using Super Sculpey, a dollmaker’s clay, to create her figurines.
From a handful of American artists inspired by it in the 1980s, the use of polymer clay has blossomed into a widespread art-jewelry movement — which includes (but is not limited to) beads in an amazing variety of shapes, colors, textures, and surface techniques — unprecedented in art history. Because polymer clay is lightweight, durable yet flexible (making it easily wearable), and offers infinite color possibilities and the promise of astounding new techniques, it has matured in only two decades to become a globalized artistic medium supporting fine craft worthy of critical scrutiny to the highest standards.