Gwen Gibson’s Early Work

Gwen Gibson, Bead-framed Pin, 1995

Aficionados know Gwen Gibson for her expansive exploration of image transfer techniques on polymer.  This brooch from the collection represents some of Gwen’s earliest work in the medium as she made a transition into polymer through beading from her previous work in painting.

Painting, 1989

This is the last painting Gwen did before discovering polymer.  Gwen says: “The active tumbled shapes and bright colors didn’t carry over to my work” with polymer. “It expresses a restless dissatisfaction I felt at the time and it’s not surprising that I was willing to move into something entirely different.”

Amulet necklace, 1990

The first piece in which Gwen employed polymer shows a fascination with multiplicity; the polymer was a means to an end.  Gwen states,” I wanted to create a profusion of ancient amulets that would have the presence of a shaman’s ceremonial piece.  I was studying cross-cultural Shamanism at the time and was drawn to tribal symbolism.  The leather-covered, fiber wrapped cord is hung with (polymer) objects that I painted to look old.  The challenge was to create harmony out of such a diversity of elements.”  Gwen went on to develop a commercial version which she produced for several years.

Beaded Necklace, 1994

By 1994, Gwen was beginning to shift away from production work to higher end one-of-a-kind pieces.  In this Necklace, polymer still plays a minor role, but the meticulous seed beading foreshadows later works in which the polymer predominates.  Gwen says,” Working with seed beads taught me patience and developed conceptual skills, but in the end, I realized I prefer to work more spontaneously.”

Bead-Framed Pin, 1995

This brooch, like the one in the collection, is from a series of bead-framed pins that acted as polymer samplers.  They provided Gwen with the opportunity to experiment with different ways of using colored (polymer) to create patterns and designs.  The beads worked to expand the patterns in the polymer.

Petroglyph Pin, 1996

By 1996 Gwen had begun to explore photocopy transfer on polymer.  Gwen says, this approach “changed my approach to my work in the sense that I was less interested in making jewelry than I was in exploring the medium.”  Here the polymer becomes the main element while the beads become the embellishment. Through these Petroglyph pins, Gwen developed her “clay-paper” collage approach.  “Of all my work with (polymer, these pieces) come closest to my paintings, albeit in a smaller scale”

Photo-transfer Pendant, 1997

About this piece Gwen writes,” In this piece I return to paint.  The transfer is on a very thin layer of translucent (polymer) that was painted with an acrylic wash and applied face down on (a white base). One of the advantages to this technique is that the surface of the translucent (polymer) can be buffed to an enamel-like finish.  At this time I designed and had cast silver bezels, hangers and clasps.  The silver gave the pieces a finished appearance, but I eventually rebelled against the constraints of the bezel shapes.”

Necklace with Etched Photocopy Transfer, 1997

This necklace, the last of Gwen’s beaded pieces, represents the culmination and full integration of her beading with photocopy transfer and her silver bezels.  After making this piece, Gwen decided to use the (polymer) for itself, without the support of silver, beads or pearls.  Gwen says, “It was a vote of confidence for the medium that had taken me a few years to entirely accept.”

From here, Gwen went on to experiment with a wide variety of surface treatments on polymer.  In so doing, she added important techniques to the basic tool kit of polymer artists.  More posts about her innovations and contributions will follow shortly.

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.