Paying Close Attention

PierVoulkos, 12 Beads, 1995This image, stunning for its deceptive simplicity, provides unusual insight into the development of polymer artistry. Shown are the 12 beads Pier Voulkos brought to exhibit and sell at the 1995 International Bead conference in Washington D.C. Those who know Pier’s work well will recognize that these beads both mapped her past work and forecast her future. Pier Voulkos, Chatoyant bead detail, 1995
Note especially the leaf bead in the top right corner. This bead had first mesmerized me when she showed it in workshop in March of that year. You will recognize it as her early experimentation with the chatoyant effect.

Pier once confided to me that she rarely worked from sketches, saying that her ideas and inspiration came from “paying attention to the clay.”  This bead represents just once example of how Pier observed what the clay had to offer, and then taught herself to tame and evolve that effect into exquisite forms.Pier Voulkos, Three Boxes, 1999

When I think about “pioneering moments”, the 1995 International Bead Conference in Washington D.C., stands out as a monumental event for both inspiration and opportunity for the cross-pollination of ideas. The Washington Bead Society was the official sponsor. As conference coordinator, Nan Roche was responsible for an extraordinary convergence of early pioneers – Kathy Amt, Kathleen Dustin, Steven Ford, David Forlano, Gwen Gibson, Lindly Haunani, Tory Hughes, Cynthia Toops and her husband, Dan Adams – to name a few. All had a presence there, whether teaching, exhibiting or presenting their work.

There was so much to see and inspire a newcomer, like myself. And so many important connections made there, personal as well as artistic. This one event promises to provide material for dozens of forthcoming posts. Kathleen Dustin, for one, is poised to tell her own story about how this event pushed her to refine the translucent layering technique which became a mainstay of her work for almost a decade.

I cannot remember a time in my life that I wasn't interested in looking at art, talking about art and the making of art. In 1990 I earned a Phd in art history at the University of Maryland. My first experiences with polymer clay were in 1992, but I consider my real work with the medium to date from 1999.