In the spring of 2014, Diane Levesque, wearing her Assistant Professor of Studio Art hat, taught the first full semester class on polymer technique at Carthage College in Kenosha, WI. This was a major development in polymer education, as polymer technique had never before been integrated into a college curriculum. In order for this to happen, Levesque wrote a proposal advocating the value of polymer as a means to teach color theory and presented a complete curriculum, which then had to be approved by college officials. Students from the spring 2014 polymer class were enthusiastic about the class, which bodes well for future enrollment. After polymer class has been taught twice more for a total of 3 times, it will achieve a permanent position in the art department’s studio offerings.
Levesque’s initial inspiration was the Terra Nova Exhibition at the Racine Art Museum in 2011. After seeing the show Levesque became intrigued by the potential of
polymer and took it upon herself to learn more. She enrolled in a polymer workshop taught by Lindly Haunani for some “hands on” experience and attended the IPCG Synergy 3 conference in 2013. Ultimately, Haunani and Maggie Maggio’s book, Polymer Clay: Color Inspirations became the textbook for Levesque’s class.
In conjunction with the introduction of polymer into the Carthage art department class rotation, Levesque, donned her hat as the Director of the H. F. Johnson Gallery of Art at Carthage College and scheduled an exhibition of polymer art. As the curator, Levesque invited 25 artists to send recent or significant artwork for display in a show entitled: A-Revisioning: New Works in Polymer. The exhibition opened on September 9, 2014 and ran through October 25, 2014.
The well-designed exhibit, installed in the white-box, on-campus gallery space, contained a wide range of works. Several stellar pieces were placed to spark attendees’ interest immediately upon entry. While these pieces might have been placed in the foreground as highlights, the depth of the show continued throughout the room.
The amount of distinctive, museum quality artwork was stunning in a show of this size and diversity. Many of the artists sent examples of high quality jewelry art, but the most innovative work in the show was not the jewelry. As one might expect, the show included some of polymer art’s biggest names- those who are well recognized beyond the borders of polymer community for their unique vision and style. And as usual, they delivered wonderful pieces. But, the exhibit also featured lesser-known artists, who spoke with a chorus of exciting voices.
An installation evocative of blowing grasses by Laura Tabakman, an enclosed still-life combining polymer with driftwood by Rachel Gourley and a table-top figurative sculpture by Phil Whitman, based on 18th century American history, were 3 among many sculptural examples that presented personal and well-considered expressions of polymer based art. These artist’s works varied from small to large, representational to abstract, serious to humorous, and even solid to etherial with no overlap of artistic concept.
Other pieces explored variations on vessel forms. Cynthia Tinapple’s staccato rhythm veneer on the exterior of husband, Blair Davis’s hand turned wood bowl is opened and welcoming, whereas Wendy Wallin Malinow’s heart shaped vessel presents a private window to view the interior. Emily Squires Levine’s lacy vases fall somewhere in-between by transforming the standard expectation of a solid form into an airy container.
Wall oriented work is another, less frequently seen option in polymer art. Techniques that have been applied to the relatively small scale of jewelry have been exploded into dramatic arrays of color, texture and scale. Heather Campbell and Laura Mika both explore the structure of the flat plane through mixed-media wall pieces that reference elaborate mosaics. Their work is stylistically distinctive but shares a common love for over abundance of mixed pattern and color. Alev Gonozar’s richly textured panel is a forceful assemblage of smaller, repetitive pieces that often suggest movement; whereas Meredith Dittmar’s wall art is subtle in color and has the moody effect of some surrealist paintings.
Although the gallery show is closed and all the pieces have been returned, an accompanying catalog documents the exhibition. The polymer studio class will be offered again during the Fall 2015 semester. Levesque’s vision and dual accomplishments are important. Just as the Terra Nova show inspired Levesque, perhaps her bold stepping out on behalf of polymer art will inspire other higher educational programs to incorporate polymer technique into their curriculums and consider polymer art as a future subject for an exhibition.