All About: The First NPCG Conference at Arrowmont

Elise asked me to lead a small team of volunteers to research and write about gatherings that influenced the development of polymer as an art medium. This is the second of these posts and we hope to follow up with more. Special thanks to Steven Ford who provided this information about the Arrowmont Conference.

Name of Event: Making History: Pushing the Craft of Polymer Clay, the first national Conference of the National Polymer Clay Guild

Sponsoring Organization: National Polymer Clay Guild

Dates and Place held: Arrowmont School of Arts and Craft, Gatlinburg, TN; September 7-13, 1997

Mission Statement: The theme was to challenge polymer clay users to think differently about how they use the material by adapting traditions and techniques from other media; most of the polymer clay techniques at the time came from glass techniques. We wanted to expand the adaptive techniques to include metal, printmaking, fabric design and construction, and ceramics. Steven Ford envisioned bringing in “Masters of Other Media” to work with polymer clay, adapt and teach new techniques developed from their working methods.

Conference Organizers:

Conference Co-chairs: Steven Ford and Jeanne Sturdevant
Publicity Chair: Elizabeth Kosterich
Fundraising Chair: Valerie Wedel
Exhibition Chair: Kathleen Dustin
Exhibition Juror: Ken Trapp, curator, Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Volunteer Coordinator: Bette Abdu
Gallery Store Chair: Laura Balombini
NPCG Board: Ellen Marshall, Christine Brashers, Pauline Botelho, Louise Belcher, Penny Etnyre, Hollie Mion, Cynthia Tinapple, Margaret Briggs, and Carol Zilliacus.

Keynote Speakers:

Rob Puleyn, Publisher Lark Books: Challenged us by asking why we simulated other materials with polymer clay instead of working with those materials. He discussed whether polymer clay was a passing fad, while acknowledging the high quality of work being done.

Wendy Rosen, The Rosen Group: Offered private marketing consultations and presented a slide talk based on craft marketing trends.

Robert Liu, publisher of Ornament Magazine: Gave slide presentation on experimentation with precious metal clay being done by polymer clay and glass artists.

Presenters, Seminars and Workshops

Kathleen Amt: Simulated handmade paper and making a sample book.
Katherine Dewey: How to build over a two dimensional drawing to sculpt in bas relief. Also techniques for mold making
Kathleen Dustin: Armatures for creating decorative lidded vessels
Gwen Gibson: Multi-step process to make pins with the imagery and look of painterly surfaces subtly altered by time
Margaret Maggio: Creating texture plates for embossing clay sheets in the pasta machine
Karen Murphy: “Jump start” classes and how to master the challenges of other classes and to achieve exciting results
Carolyn Potter: Wearable human masks
Cynthia Toops: Cane designs developed from simple millifiore designs
Pier Voulkos: Colorful hollow forms, adding still another way to achieve volume in polymer clay design

Masters of other Media:
Dan Peters: (wood) Using thin, sheets of polymer clay as veneers
Maggie Aston: (printmaking) Creating intaglio and relief prints from polymer clay matrices
Sue Patterson: (fabric construction) Using fabric-like sheets of polymer clay in sewn construction
Janice Everett : (color forecaster, surface design) Metalsmith applications adapted to polymer clay
Chris Hentz : (metals) Surface designing on thin sheets of polymer clay.
Suzanne Stern and Christopher Hentz: (metals) Metalsmith applications adapted to polymer clay
Will Truncheon: (ceramics) Taught students to throw polymer clay vessels.

Exhibition: Recent History, a 1997 National Juried Polymer Clay Exhibit (August 15th – October 4th 1997)

Exhibit Chair: Kathleen Dustin
Juror: Ken Trapp, Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institution
Exhibition Committee: Ellen Finkelsen, Sherry Bailey, Kathleen Amt, and Debbie Krueger

Exhibition Mission: Exhibit the best work currently being done with polymer clay.The Show consisted of 54 pieces made by 31 artists chosen by Mr. Trapp out of 312 entries made by 124 artists. Mr. Trapp chose 4 artists to receive awards at the same time as the slide jurying. In addition, the conference attendees voted for 4 awards on the night of the reception. The awards, created by Debbie Krueger, President of the Houston Polymer Clay Guild, were presented at the reception.


Jurors Choice: “Flowering Pod II” by Rebecca Zimmerman
Jurors Favorite: “Balloons” by Pier Voulkos
Jurors Memorable Mention: “Bird Dwelling” by Sheila Sheppard
Jurors Memorable Mention: “Necklace” by Judy Kuskin
Best New Direction: “Piqué a Jour” by Cathy Andresen
Best Use of Color: “Teapot III” by Rebecca Zimmerman
Best Beads: “Chitlin” by Cynthia Toops
Best Sculpture: “Dryad” by Katherine Dewey

Other important aspects of the Conference: Sherri Haab demonstrated how to how make the best choices in film, lighting, setups and camera settings to photograph polymer clay art. Lindly Haunani opened up endless possibilities of coloring translucent clay by adding pigments, embossing powders, and other inclusions. Nan Roche introduced woven and braided forms with polymer clay. Carol Zilliacus demonstrated how to use canes to achieve the look of tapestries and paintings. Laura Balombini led panel discussions on successful marketing techniques. Lindly Haunani shared her incredible collection of polymer clay beads. Elise Winters presented an overview of MIPCES and showed slides for the event.

Donations were provided by Lark Books, Robert Liu, Wendy Rosen, Dori Grandstand, Flower Valley Press, Rio Grande, Accent Imports, Conference faculty, Accent Imports, Amaco, T&F GmbH (makers of Cernit), the Clay Factory, Polymer Clay Express, Rio Grande and Prairie Craft Company, Steven Ford, and many conference registrants.

As this is an ongoing research effort, we welcome additions or corrections to informational posts about these events.

I work in in metal, lampwork, seed beading and polymer clay. I also write about crafts and have reviewed books for several publications. Polymer Clay's growth in popularity in the late 20th Century coincided with the rise of the Internet. Coincidence? This co-evolution provides an unprecidented opportunity for curators and polymer clay artists to share a first person account of the history of the medium with a vast number of people. The Polymer Art Archive is an important part of that effort and I am happy to be able to contribute to it.