A Seminal Clearinghouse

While researching her essay for the upcoming RAM exhibition catalog, Rachel Carren has encountered lots of interesting historical material too detailed for that volume.  One example is this story of Marie Segal’s first encounter with polymer and the business which she and her husband Howard started in the early 1980’s. Before the Internet, there was one “go-to” source for information on how to handle polymer.  That was the Fimo Factory. When we artists had technical questions about polymer or when we had discovered something new, the recurring refrain was, “Call Marie and Howard.” It would be hard to underestimate the importance of this clearinghouse as a major conduit for information among polymer artist in those early days.  Howard explains:


“Marie started playing with polymer clay in 1978, she found it in an

international toy store.

Marie had been working in ceramic clays for awhile at this point. We

first saw it in the Laguna Sawdust festival and she knew it wasn’t a

ceramic clay. Marie loved working with low-fire colorful glazes, so she

was immediately attracted to it. We never got to talk to that artist

even though we went back three times.

We actually started doing business as Marie Segal’s Collectables in

1980. In 1985 We were granted, to use “Fimo”  in

our company name. We called it The FIMO Factory. Here is a picture of

Marie and me standing in front of our first store we opened called FIMO


Everything was fine until 1988 when Eberhard Faber came to us and told

us we can no longer use the name Fimo Factory. We then changed our name

to Clay Factory.

In 1982 we changed our production entirely over from bread dough to FIMO.

Previously Marie made only small items using Fimo, pins, earrings and

special pieces exploring the medium.

Immediately, as our customers saw the new look of our gift items the

creative ones asked, “What is that stuff, how do you use it and where can

I get it.”

Of course, I saw the opportunity to make more money which would pay for

the Fimo we used in our production and bring our volume up.

We became a major distributor of Fimo.

Here is a link to a very old hand drawn catalog of finished product we

did. I also wrote some commentary on each page. Its kind of fun to look

at and read.

Marie still did art pieces and we would bring them to the shows, but the

production and wholesale were the ornaments, magnets, figurines and

jewelry. The cute stuff out sold the art 50 to 1.


There was virtually no help anywhere about using the clay. I wrote EFA

in 1984 and asked many questions. I did all the mixing by hand of course. They suggested a pasta machine. They told me to try it and let them know if it worked. I was very glad to figure this out.

In 1986 Lois Tonyan, another artist, told me about using a food processor to grind the

clay up. Yet another one of our customers at that time suggested we use the

caulking gun with the Kemper clay gun to extrude pieces.

No one at the time was using Fimo in the volume we were. We learned a

tremendous amount about the clay, as I am sure you can imagine.

Nothing teaches a medium as well as mass production. We encountered many

things that the “series” or “one of a kind” artist would never see.

We always passed on any information we learned.

The word of mouth got many people in contact with us. We also searched

for people who were using bread dough and helped them convert over to

Fimo. People who took classes from Marie would tell their friends….

then friends of friends of friends and so on.

Not only did we do street shows, we did wholesale trade shows too. We

sold finished gift items, clay and tools.

It would be hard for me to tell you the name of every person who was involved

with us along the “polymer clay” brick road. If they were doing polymer

clay in the 1980’s, they surely had contact with us.

There was a large group of artists in the 80’s. Most never became

famous. They all shared with us and we shared what we learned. Have a

problem? Call us. We were there to help. The more we helped the more

they could make and the more clay they would use.”

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.