The Way We Were….. Winter 1997

The Way We Were….. Winter 1997
Cynthia Toops, A Bashful Young Potato, 1997 polymer, 2 3/4" x 2 3/4"

Who would have guessed that the winter of 1997 would become especially significant to polymer history?  Let’s look back 15 years to the Winter 1997 “PolyInformer”, the newsletter of the then 6 year old National Polymer Clay Guild , to see what was happening.

The front page announces the first NPCG conference “Making History:  Pushing the Craft of Polymer Clay” at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.   Wanting to go beyond a presentation of new polymer techniques, Steven Ford and Jeanne Sturdevant planned the September 1997 conference with a particular focus on exploring relationships between polymer and other areas of craft.  Techniques and cross-over ideas from woodworking, fiber, printmaking, metal, ceramics, were to be examined in relation to polymer.   The conference included wood worker, Dan Peters, fiber artist, Janice Everett, printmaker, Maggie Aston, metal-smith, Chris Hentz and ceramicist, Will Truncheon.  Some of the featured instructors in polymer were: Kathleen Dustin, Steven Ford, Cynthia Toops and Pier Voulkos.  A juried exhibition, “Recent History of Polymer Clay” shown during the conference included Cythina Toops’ wall piece (above).

On page 10, there is an introduction and a full schedule for the MIPCES show, the Masters’ Invitational Polymer Clay Exhibition and Sale to be held that May at the Old Church Cultural Center in Demarest, NJ.   The brain child of Elise Winters- what would be her first of many- this invitational exhibit of experimental works brought together both masters and emerging artists in an effort to promote the medium to a larger audience.   Educational workshops, sales and general public outreach were key components of the concept.

Not solely devoted to future happenings, the newsletter also includes some post-event comments by Tory Hughes, “Reflections on Ravensdale”.   This seminal 1996 gathering in the Seattle area became the first of a series of nationally attended conferences sponsored by the NorthWest Polymer Clay Guild.   Ravensdale was a highly organized event with a full schedule of discussions, critiques, demos, and an exhibition.   In an effort to help provide focus after the intensity of the Ravensdale experience, Hughes wrote about personal intention, quality workmanship, polymer legitimacy and its integration with other materials.  She even addressed the need for an academic curriculum.  These themes are as relevant now as then.

Big picture polymer philosophy is presented in a discussion by Carol Shelton on what to call the amazing new medium.   Shelton makes the argument that using name brands is confusing and all varieties should be known uniformly as “polymer clay”.  As evidenced by a recent PAA post, the topic of nomenclature is on- going.

And there was more…..

Several pages are devoted to the always challenging problem of how to photograph your work.   The technology of photography has changed dramatically over the past 15 years, but the need for high quality images has not.  Photography is likely to be an increasingly crucial component of professional presentation as more opportunities, juries, exhibitions and collections move on- line.  Not surprisingly, concepts of professional presentation were an important topic of discussion at the RAM symposium in October 2011.

To round things out, there is a brief glimpse into Sandra McCaw’s technique for subtle shifts of graduated color which she already was employing in her dimensional-looking quilted canes.   Coincidentally, a “how-to” of the “Skinner Blend” technique had debuted in the prior issue of the PolyInformer (Fall 1996).  A profile of artist, Sue Patterson, an interview with ornament maker Sharon Sahl, registration info and the form for the already annual Shrinemont retreat in Orkney Springs and the usual notices of local guild meetings, workshops, etc. completed the issue.

It is interesting to contemplate what might be in another 15 years.

Follow these links for more information on Arrowmont, and MIPCES.

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.