More Nonpareils

Pier Voulkos, Faux Beaded Bead Necklace 3, detail, 1993Coining new words is not my specialty, but the last three posts on this site seemed to demand a descriptive term for the tiny, hand formed polymer balls used by Lori, Amy, Cynthia, Pier and others. For the purpose of uniform terminology, let’s call them “nonpareils.”
When I asked Amy Zinman about the technical inspiration for her lizard sculptures in the previous post, she cited her attraction to Cynthia Toops’ signature micro-mosaics and also to the nonpareils she had seen in these necklaces by Pier Voulkos.

I spoke with Pier last week, and asked her various questions about those early necklaces. Here’s what she had to say:

On technical inspiration: “I was influenced by the rage for seed beading at the time and by Cynthia Toops’ work with micro-mosaics. I loved the look of Joyce Scott’s work, so this was my easy or not-so-easy way to replicate the look. That’s why I call them ‘faux beaded beads’.”

From bead to necklace:  “This necklace evolved out of a request made in 1993 by Julie Dale, owner of Julie: Artisans Gallery in Manhattan.  For the gallery’s 20th anniversary celebration in January of 1994, Julie asked a number of the artists whose work she had been featuring to create ‘something special,’ dynamic pieces that could be exhibited and sold to her broad clientele.”

“I was thinking at that time of the movie star from the 1940’s and 50’s, Carmen Miranda. You remember the way she dressed – all fruits and flowers and shell forms that shook when she danced. She was a theatrical piece of work, and that’s the way I wanted my necklaces to be, big and showy.”
Pier Voulkos, Faux Beaded Bead Necklace #1 on Plate, 1993On concept and design:  “These were my first experiments with beads made around an aluminum foil core, so they could be both large and light.  I made the display plate for the neckpiece so that in the small gallery they would stand up to all the large beautiful wearable art surrounding them.” said Pier. She added with extra emphasis, “They were an interesting diversion from caning.”

Interesting, but not exactly easy. “They were labor intensive, and the display plates were the big hurdle. The hard part was holding the beads and working on them without squishing the little tiny clay balls; I would stick them on three long, thin darning needles, like little tripods, so I could hang onto them or just set them down.”

In French, the word nonpareil means “without equal.” An apt description as well for Pier’s artistic design and accomplishment.

Note: Pier made three necklaces in this series. The first one, shown above on the display plate, sold at Julie.  The second was shown in Steven Ford and David Forlano’s 1995 Polymer Clay calendar.  The necklace in the detail photo is the third which remains in Pier’s personal collection. It is 23 inches long, and the large yellow bead is about 2 ¼ inches in diameter.

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.

1 Comment on “More Nonpareils

  1. In a workshop at Ravensdale with Jeff Dever, he demonstrated making the nonpareil look by pre-baking the tiny balls and then attaching them to your form with liquid polymer clay — a MUCH easier variation to prevent squishing! I didn’t ask, but maybe he was inspired by Pier!