The Collection: Part 2

On the wish list of the Racine Art Museum, WI
Dan Cormier, Fiji Mermaid, 2000

Using a photo portfolio that featured outstanding examples of available polymer art, Elise began to contact some of the nation’s most noted museum curators.  She did hours of investigative research on specific museums, and issues relevant to the concept.   She made appointments and then took trips to Texas, California and Wisconsin with the specific goal of explaining her project to curators whom she believed might become supporters.  After each trip, Elise returned home more knowledgeable, more confident, and more sure of her direction.  We began to have many long discussions about the different museums, which curators would be most receptive, and which institutions might best serve the mission.

On the wish list of the MFA Boston, MA
Pier Voulkos, Long Fancy Flower necklace, 1991
in the private collection of Lindly Haunani
on the cover of Lindly's first book,”Artist's at Work”

Along the way we both joined Art Jewelry Forum, an organization of mostly curators, gallery owners and collectors interested in art jewelry.  This group gave us a great opportunity to meet people and get a better idea of what it meant to be a collector.  More research followed about the nature of collecting.   Ultimately, the contacts proved invaluable as both resources and inspiration.

Interest was building; the “Polymer Collection Project” was starting to take off.

In the meantime, the collection of polymer art in Elise's house had now grown to several thousand pieces, each of which had been carefully photographed, measured, labeled, and cataloged. Nancy Travers volunteered to assist, and immediately began sorting and identifying individual pieces as well as tracking down details and managing the databases.  Toward the end of the process, we realized that we had established a mini-museum of polymer art in Haworth, New Jersey, with Elise as the unofficial director, me as the “curator” and Nancy as the “registrar.”

On the wish list of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA
City Zen Cane, Black and White Shell Necklace, 1997
from the private collection of Nan Roche

By early 2009 word was out, and Elise started getting calls from curators eager to visit the mini-museum in order to establish claims on their favorite selections from the collection.

One New York curator was so eager to have “first pick” that she committed to visit on Easter Sunday afternoon.  The timing was a bit tricky in that I picked Elise up in Philadelphia and we drove on to New Jersey, only to arrive shortly before our anticipated visitors.  Once everyone settled in, it was hard not to notice the curator’s general sense of amazement over what was being presented.  She left with a far longer wish list than we had ever imagined.

On the wish list of the Mingei International Museum, San Diego, CA
Lorraine Randecker, necklace
in the private collection of Carol Watkins

Later that same week, we were to meet with two curators during the SOFA:New York show.   Unlike a more traditional craft show, where the artists apply and are juried into an exhibition, SOFA is comprised of high-end art galleries who come to exhibit the work of artists they represent.  At SOFA quality is high, prices tend toward the stratospheric and security guards are everywhere.  We had selected several pieces by Cynthia Toops along with Jeffrey Lloyd Dever’s Niche award winning bracelet, “Summer Opulence”, to carry to the show as visual enticements.  However, Elise and I were meeting the curators inside the show.  How to do this and still be discrete with regard to security and other gallery owners?  Arriving with a page of appropriate documentation and a very carefully packed box of work in my handbag, we walked into the armory.  Needless to say, my bag never left my side.   As the day progressed we were able to meet with both curators and arouse their interest.  We were further encouraged.

On the wish list of the Newark Museum,  NJ
Gwen Gibson, Necklace, 2002
from the private collection of Nan Roche

Between April and June, at least six curators came to Elise's home in New Jersey in order to see the collection in person.  Every session began with some basic education about polymer followed by a viewing of the large body of works on hand.  Each institution’s curator identified pieces that they wished to acquire and incorporate into their extant collections.

On the wish list of the Racine Art Museum,  WI
Sarah Shriver, Forest Collar, necklace, 2008
in the private collection of Elise Winters

One museum director and his wife were at the house for the better part of a day.  They already knew of the material and were more aware of the range of polymer possibilities.  The two of them became so engaged with what they were seeing it was easy to sense their excitement.  Another curator came with two of her staff and spent several hours.  We talked polymer, looked at lots of work, made a list of possible acquisitions and even shared a brownie recipe.  An independent jewelry study group’s tour to New York brought one curator, who despite the schedule stayed longer than she ever intended.   And yet another curator came back a second time to confirm his choices and ended up adding additional pieces to his museum’s wish list.

On the wish list of the Museum of Arts and Design, NY
Victoria Hughes, Armillary Neckpiece, 1992
from the private collection of Elise Winters

I was lucky enough to be there for most of these curatorial visits.  From my perspective it was wonderful to meet everyone, as well as to watch them look, touch, and react.   Their responses reaffirmed much of my own impressions about the quality, depth and range of the wonderful array of polymer art presented.

And now, the collection project is in the process of moving to its next stage.  Elise’s vision of so many years ago is about to be realized in ways far beyond her initial expectations.  In the coming weeks, please check the PAA for news updates and exciting developments.

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.

2 Comments on “The Collection: Part 2

  1. Have any publishers expressed interest in putting together a catalog of all this work? I’d love to buy such a catalog, and I believe many Guild libraries would also want to acquire such a volume.

    Kudos on all your hard work and devotion to this art that I love.

  2. I am not surprised that Elise’s vision for the collection is coming to fruition. The pieces are exemplary and Elise and her team have worked for so long on this labor of love. Kudos to you all!!