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never ending story and a question for you

flickr find:

I have quite a bit of tidying up to do, both virtual and real life (and that’s the never ending story…), so instead of a regular post on DAM today I will be posting lots of art related links on the Daily Art Muse Facebook Page while I tidy up here.  Back to my regular posting tomorrow.

As for my virtual cleaning – I’ve been made aware that the Categories box on DAM is being finicky again.  I’m working on a permanent fix for it, but I would like to know if it is currently working for anyone.  The mystery is that it works for me – but not for everyone.  It would be very helpful if you would leave a comment telling me if it brings you to the correct posts when you click on a category or if it brings you back to the blog’s home page (and let me know what browser you are using).  Thanks for your help – hope to see you over on Facebook!

Never Ending Story, by peggyhr on Flickr


synergy 2, part 1: in pursuit of excellence – the evolution of a medium

I know you come to Daily Art Muse to be inspired by interesting, beautiful fine craft – my survey of handcrafted excellence – but indulge me as I reflect on some of what I absorbed at last week’s conference. I offer my thoughts as inspiration of a different sort.  This essay is a call to action, not only to those working with polymer, but to all on a creative path.


The Conference

Synergy2 offered many things including a rich learning environment; a feast of vivid, well-executed art; an exciting, sophisticated conversation between passionate, intelligent, experienced master level artists and a variety of other equally passionate interested parties.  At the end of this post you will find links to images of the work that was on display and further commentary from others about what resonated with them. Today I want to focus on one area of discussion that speakers touched on during the conference and that I believe is critical at this point in the history of the medium: The pursuit of excellence.


Jeff Dever, Nestled Repose, polymer clay, 2010 Niche Award Winner

The Commitment

Bruce Pepich joined the crowd of more than 250 people as both a guest speaker and a panel participant.  As Executive Director and Curator of Collections for the Racine Art Museum (RAM), Pepich has assembled one of the most significant contemporary craft collections in the nation.  Elise Winters, who has persevered in her efforts to elevate polymer as a credible art medium, describes the relationship with RAM, explaining that “Bruce is currently planning a major museum exhibition complete with hardcover catalog to accompany the establishment of a permanent collection of polymer art at RAM. When his vision is realized, RAM will become the national center for the elevation, exhibition, and academic study of our chosen artistic medium.”


Elise Winters, Red Cascade RUFFLE Neckpiece, polymer clay

Winters and Pepich make a formidable team and we should be deeply grateful for this level of commitment from Winters, the Racine Art Museum and several other museums who have followed Pepich’s lead, acquiring smaller collections of polymer art for their permanent collections. It is indicative of just how far the medium has come in a relatively short period of time, but read on – we have an obligation to ourselves, to RAM, to the medium – we still have work to do.


Bruce Pepich, Rachel Carren, Kathleen Dustin

The Lesson

Pepich compared polymer’s journey with another medium that shared a similar journey as it sought its rightful place in the world of fine craft. The glass art movement was, at one point in its history, where we are today. Pepich talked about the undeniable fact that the glass art movement’s successful evolution has culminated in an important body of “competent, respected work that has broken boundaries” in the fine craft world. He went on to say that it is time for us to “think much broader than the medium”; time to “pull as many resources and references as possible outside of the techniques.” What I heard is that if we want to be taken seriously, we must first take ourselves seriously and rise to the challenges that lie ahead.

The Challenge (maybe two…)

Pepich boldly challenged us, saying “Don’t be afraid of excellence.” A glorious challenge, perhaps matched only by Kathleen Dustin’s when she asked the polymer artists present to consider making a museum quality piece as a way of elevating their own work and assisting the medium on its journey. Dustin was ultimately encouraging artists who are using this medium to think differently about their work; to think bigger than the medium; to think on a higher level – reminding us that it’s not just about selling.

A valuable conversation, but these challenges raise some questions:  How do we begin the process of thinking bigger than the medium? How does one go about making work that is museum quality? And heck,  isn’t the pursuit of excellence SCARY?


Kathleen Dustin, Nature Fix, polymer clay
3’h x 3’w x 9”d [yes, you read that right, each pod is 3 FEET high]

The Example

This brings me back to Pepich’s reference to glass art.  As I listened to him speak I was reminded of an artist who was part of that important journey many years ago.  Paul Stankard is one of the world’s master glass artists and “a member of the pioneering generation of glass artists in America.” He was both witness to, and a participant in, the history of the studio glass movement.  In his book, No Green Berries or Leaves, he writes about the importance of seeing and experiencing great works of art if one hopes to make good art.  A champion of commitment, exposure to great art, practice and perseverance, Paul is passionate about the necessity of growing in artistic maturity and his views on the long-term value of a focused education and how one achieves excellence in art making are compelling and worth noting – regardless of your chosen medium.


Paul Stankard, Mountain Laurel Bouquet Orb,
flameworked elements encapsulated in clear glass

“Excellence transcends categories and whether a piece is glass sculpture in the fine arts tradition, a murrini, a marble, a goblet, a paperweight or a bead, if one’s work is personal and is made well, it will be respected by informed art enthusiasts and other artists.” Paul Stankard

The Formula

Bruce Pepich challenged us, asking us to put aside our fear of excellence and I think Paul Stankard, who has been in pursuit of excellence in glass art for almost 50 years, has a valid formula that can assist us as we move forward. The pursuit of excellence requires a commitment of time, effort and resources. Many people think the artists who rise to the top do so because they have talent, and I agree with Jeff Dever’s theory that “90% of talent is seat time and sweat equity.” However, I maintain that first you must move away from the familiarity and comfort of your ‘seat’ and educate yourself about Art with a capital A and Craft with a capital C.

You are reading Daily Art Muse, which has become a rich, global resource for examples of handcrafted excellence accessed by art students, makers and collectors, so you have some understanding of what I mean. Paul Stankard helps his students (and anyone who is serious about making good art) mature as artists by encouraging them to develop an informed artistic vocabulary. His message is clear: Study art in museums, galleries, art history classes, lectures. Become a student of nature, one of the most powerful sources of inspiration for artists. Consider pursuing graduate level education in art.  Maintain a steady, consistent reaching and stretching outside of your artistic comfort zone. Continue regular practice and experimentation with your medium. Marry all of this to your voice, your message, your expression and you will be well on your way to creating art that is authentic and substantive. If you follow this formula, you benefit, your work benefits, your medium benefits and the larger community benefits.  And perhaps, somewhere along the way, you might even make that museum quality piece.

Synergy Sound Bytes

“Talent is 90% seat time and sweat equity” Jeff Dever

“We have matured to the point that we know we need master level work, we need to promote master level work.” Kathleen Dustin, artist

“A master is somebody who is using the medium as a form of self expression and not only has great skill, but also has something to say.” Rachel Carren, Art Historian, Ph.D. (Art History)

“This is a golden moment in the history of polymer clay and NOW is the time.” Jeff Dever, artist

“Researching and documenting the history of polymer clay creates validation and credibility.” Bruce Pepich, Executive Director and Curator, Racine Art Museum

“Fine artists have a voice – the material is transparent.” Jeff Dever


For more about Bruce Pepich, read Woody Rudin’s article about the man, the curator, the Superhero.

Read my review of Paul Stankard’s book for more sage advice from a master.

It’s not too late to make a donation to the RAM collection. Here’s the link.

Cynthia Tinapple shares thoughts and many images from Synergy2 – here is a collection of posts – click on each one to see the images and to discover links to thoughts from other attendees.

Next week: Synergy2, Part 2 from DaMuse.

shane keena’s ceramic sculpture: poetic and prickly chimeras

Ceramic Shane Keena grew up in Southern California, surrounded by surf and sand.  An avid scuba diver, Keena has had the opportunity to study a large variety of underwater plants, animals and rocks.




Marmoratus Nudicup, ceramic, luster, mixed media


Marmoratus Nudicup, detail

This ongoing discovery of sea life, along with inspiration from microscopic images of pollen, and exotic fruits like durian and jackfruit, have had a profound impact on the artist’s work.  Known for his consistently beautiful glazes, each piece sports hundreds of prickly ceramic spikes, individually hand painted by Keena. While the work speaks to his own guarded nature, it also explores the universal issues of vulnerability and defense mechanisms.


Ibara, ceramic, luster, china paint


Ibara, detail

“My agenda is not to recreate what already exists in the world, but rather to create objects that are chimeras; the result of a blending of ideas begging the question; “is it animal, mineral, or vegetable?” I aim for my work to come to life within arm’s reach, where eyesight blurs into touch with the objective of creating new, enigmatic and uncategorized art-forms.”


Fugu, multi-fired earthenware, luster, individually china painted spines

“The objects I create are the by-products of a long personal investigation and echo the characteristics of my guarded personality. Reflecting a keen interest in structural defense mechanisms found in nature, my ceramic forms swell with bravado, often adopting aggressive or recoiling postures in a fight-or-flight state that protect the visceral interiors.”


Crawl, ceramic, mixed media


Crawl, detail

More at Armstrong Gallery

Read an interview with Keena at South California Potters

marina massone’s metal pleats

Argentinian metalsmith Marina Massone’s pleated metal jewelry appeals to my weakness for curves and swirls. The industrial designer’s pleated collection is part of an extensive portfolio that encompasses several styles of metal work as well as leather jewelry – make sure you have more than a few minutes to spare, there is a lot to see.

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Garland Necklace, pleated bronze, silver plated


Beehive Necklace, pleated bronze, silver plated


Beehive Necklace, detail




Beehive Necklace, pleated bronze, silver plated

via Metalisteria

high5 polymer clay: ancient modern review

We are midway through the week-long series, High5 Polymer Clay.  If you are new to polymer clay – if I’ve piqued your interest and you are ready to explore the medium – be sure to look at some of the books, DVDs and resources listed in the sidebar.

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[private_archives]Ancient Modern: Polymer Clay + Wire Jewelry is a good place to start.  Ronna Sarvas Weltman has written a book that is a safe haven for artists to put perfection aside for a moment, experiment with the two mediums and maybe even draw out your inner jewelry designer in the process.


Ancient Modern: Polymer Clay + Wire Jewelry

Of particular interest to anyone interested in making jewelry are her tips about the mechanics of design – how to make a piece wearable and comfortable.  In addition to the 15 projects in the book, there is a clear, concise Coiling Wire Chart to help you determine how much wire is needed when making uniform coils.

But wait, there is more…


Nightfall in Mozambique, polymer clay, wire

I’ve had the pleasure of watching Ronna grow as an artist over the last three years and getting to know this lovely, generous, upbeat soul has been a special treat for me.  Ronna introduced herself (via email) in the early days of Daily Art Muse, when this blog was known as Polymer Clay Notes.  She was often inspired by the art I posted here and we made a precious connection as we forged ahead on our individual paths.  Some time later, when she told me she was writing a book that would marry polymer clay and wire with her primitive, organic style I knew it would be a hit, and it is – Ancient Modern, released by Interweave Press in June 2009, is already in its second printing.


Why is it so popular?  In Ancient Modern, Ronna makes polymer clay accessible for people who might be intimidated to try it and for those just beginning their exploration of this versatile medium.  She has impeccable taste, a strong eye for design and a bold, organic, joyful sensibility to her style.

I would categorize this as a book for beginners, but I will qualify that by saying it is one of the most sophisticated beginner books I’ve seen. The layout is crisp.  The instructions clear.  The photographs stunning. While the polymer clay techniques are not new to me, Weltman’s application is fresh and beautifully articulated. I have been working with polymer clay for several years and I still found enough in the pages of this book that sparked my imagination to easily recommend it as a valuable resource for intermediate level clayers.


So Much And More, extruded polymer clay, wire

I caught up with Ronna last month and had the opportunity to see many of the pieces from the book. All comfortable, wearable and lightweight. I’m intrigued by the simplicity of the extruded clay bracelet pictured above.  The bracelet was surprisingly flexible when I put it on and I immediately began pondering how I could use this technique in other ways. Once I have a place to work again (soon) I will experiment with a few ideas that are taking form based on what I learned from the book (I’ll post them here – promise!).


Three Ring Circus, polymer clay, wire

Ancient Modern: Polymer Clay + Wire Jewelry offers ideas, tips and inspiration to both beginners and seasoned polymer clay artists – I recommend it as a permanent addition to your library.


Want one?  Click on the link in the sidebar to purchase the book from Amazon.

Ronna Sarvas Weltman’s website

More images of the book on the Interweave Press website

Want to know how to get published?  Weltman will present Get Published! at the February 2010 Synergy2 Conference

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