MIPCES Exhibition: Kathleen Dustin

If you are a new visitor to Polymer Art Archive, you can find background about this event in the 2 posts, Past, Present Future and All About MIPCES.


small purse, one of a group, 6”x 5½” x 3¼”

For the MIPCES catalog, Kathleen Dustin wrote:

“Art is my response to the common everyday lives of women in different cultures and in different times- especially in comparison to my own. The women in this group seem to be from some time or place not our own. Yet true art is timeless. Their gestures and faces express the timelessness of serenity and contemplation, as does the biblical text which part of the pattern of their clothing.”

More recently, Kathleen reflected: “This grouping of village women was made in 1996-97 specifically for the MIPCES exhibit although I had developed the idea of village women purses a little earlier. The idea came from my life experiences of living in Ankara, Turkey for 3 ½ years and from which we’d returned only recently in 1993. Living there was still very fresh in my mind, especially the women I’d see going about their daily chores as I went on my walks. I have no pictures of them, just sharp memories of their very baggy pants topped with a loose blouse, vest, and head scarf each of brightly colored and diverse prints. With so much voluminous cloth, each women often appeared just as a somewhat undefined shape with hands, feet, and a face sticking out. So the figures I made were abstracted and exaggerated shapes which allowed me to make them hollow vessels (or purses) with very delicate and refined hands, feet, and faces.

I placed them in a grouping or a circle to show the community that was such an important part of their lives. When driving in Turkey, we would often see a group of women talking while they were spinning or knitting or making bread or tending sheep or doing all these things at once (the men were always talking in the village tea house while watching soccer on TV or playing backgammon).

On the back of each women and incorporated into the decoration was a hand written quote from Proverbs or Psalms from the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible which pertained to women and/or life.

The translucent layering technique I used on the surface of these women was a technique I developed only a few months earlier and was still in the process of refining. Briefly described, first a base hollow shape was made out of metallic Premo with a thin skin of white polymer clay on its surface and this was cured. After sanding, the white surface was decorated with permanent inks and pencils. Then the entire outer surface was completely covered with thin slices of translucent polymer that had inclusions of millefiore, 22k and imitation gold leaf, or glitters and powders. These slices were laid on as one does patchwork butting all edges together without overlapping and then it was all pressed on very firmly (one might say “squished on”). After it was cured again, it was sanded again. Then I carved lines and backfilled them with colored polymer clay, mostly black, and then cured it the third and last time. After this, it was sanded with 4 increasingly fine grits, and then polished with a buffing wheel. This multistepped technique allows for a rich depth of surface and is a technique exclusive to polymer clay.

I continued to deal with the village women idea for a few more years, but the freshness of living in Turkey began to fade and was overtaken by other events in my life. I try to have my artistic expression reflect my current life experiences.

The wonderful thing about an exhibit at a conference like MIPCES is that is gives the artist a goal to work toward for making a truly statement-making, important piece. Polymer artists who do it for a living often get so caught up in production and having enough stuff for the next show, that making important work is put aside. I am very thankful that MIPCES enabled and encouraged me to put together this important piece. After the exhibit, I sold the village women individually so they unfortunately will never be a community again.”

Kathleen Dustin with her work in MIPCES exhibition
Kathleen Dustin with her work in MIPCES exhibition

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.