Mechanical Intervention

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Posted in Tools

Carl Hornberger, Beads

There is the saying that “Necessity is the mother of invention”. While making precise uniformly-shaped beads from polymer clay isn’t exactly a necessity, it can be challenging to do so.  This is particularly the case when you want to make uniform elongated oval beads with two pionted ends.

I first met Carl and Jean Hornberger at the National Polymer Clay Guild’s Annual retreat at Shrinemont in Orkney Springs Virginia. I was fascinated by the notion that they both were artists who used polymer clay, often collaborated on pieces together, had a blended family of thirteen children and complimented each other’s artistic sensibilities. Jean’s pieces were much softer and often incorporated crocheted fibers, glass beads and found objects. Carl’s pieces were bolder, often featured bright vibrant colors and swirling patterns.

At the 1996 retreat, I noticed a large crowd gathering around Carl’s workstation for a demonstration. At first all I could see was a large piece of PVC piping and wondered just what he was going to do with a piece of plastic  plumbing pipe. As a retired chemist, Carl loved experimenting in his workshop with mechanical things- especially those that would work with polymer clay.

What he was demonstrating was a bead roller he had made from a half round piece of the plumbing pipe as a trough and a slightly smaller piece of pipe as a paddle with a Plexiglas handle. He indicated that this was a modern version of an ancient ceramic bead making tool. Initially he demonstrated how a solid round ball of polymer clay could easily be paddled into an even foot ball shaped bead by sliding the paddle along the length of the trough. What really got the crowd excited was when he demonstrated just what would happen if the starting ball of clay was covered with striped cane slices. In the rolling, the stripes torqued, forming interesting patterns.

Another year he demonstrated a tool he had devised to help Jean use a small hand held clay “gun” to extrude long lengths of stiffer polymer clay to appliqué onto her pieces. Up until then this was a tedious hand-straining process.

His innovative mechanical inventions provided impetus to many artists working in polymer clay to try new approaches. Since then, both of these devices have been re-tooled, refined and are available as commercially made tools to all polymer clay artists.

Carl Hornberger, Necklace, 1997, 31.5″ long

Jean and Carl are no longer with us but they are both remembered for their generosity of spirit, enthusiasm for life and innovative approaches which inspired artists who followed