Who remembers discovering polymer for the first time and maybe running out and scoring a copy of The New Clay? The Philadelphia Area Polymer Clay Guild was lucky enough to have The New Clay author and polymer innovator Nan Roche at a recent meeting where she recalled her introduction to polymer and how she came to write a classic work on polymer techniques and art.
In the 1980’s Nan was a hand weaver and had a studio at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, VA. Someone, Nan didn’t recall who, came back from New York city with with a fascinating necklace from the Julie: Artisan Gallery in Manhattan. The necklace made from an material that no one could identify until a ceramic artist named Kathleen Dustin, who also had a studio at the Torpedo Factory, recognized the material as Fimo. Dustin remembered Fimo from when she had lived abroad and said that it was marketed to children as an art material. But the necklace was no toy; it was extraordinary. People wanted to know about the material it was made from. Information on products like Fimo was hard to get in the days before the Internet, but Dustin did some research and was able to find a US supplier for a similar material called Sculpey. (Fimo was not sold in the US at this time) She ordered some and started to experiment with it using a millefiore caning technique familiar to glass artists.
People saw Dustin’s work and wanted learn how to use this new art medium. So, Dustin scheduled a class at the Torpedo Factory and 60 people showed up to take it. One of them was Nan Roche who described the excitement in the class like buzz on the floor of Filene’s Basement on a Saturday Morning.
Nan would later recall the class in the foreward she wrote to Sarajane Helm’s Create a Polymer Clay Impression,
“As I was being shown how to make my own millefiore designs by Kathleen Dustin, in a fateful class at the Torpedo Factory Art Center, the connections were exploding in my head. I don’t think I slept for several days after that class. I was so excited!”
The interesting thing about this was at the time, different people around the country were discovering polymer and working with it independently. You can read an excellent account this in Kathleen Dustin’s articles on the Polymer Art Archive.
“I went to work at my dining room table and thank God my area rug didn’t get too damaged, Nan recalled, “I was so excited that I would wake up my husband to show him what I’d made.”
So I would bring in things that I had worked on in my dining room and people would say, “My God I wanna learn it!” I started teaching classes in my dining room.” Textile artist Helene Bress took a workshop. Her husband Seymour was just in the process of starting a publishing business and asked me to write the book. ” Nan said she resisted initially because she had a full time job and was raising a family, but then decided she was ready to leave the world of textile art and weaving behind. After she agreed to write the book, she spent the next year and a half working all day, coming home and writing all night. She wrote the kind of book that that she would like to read, and that’s why The New Clay explains what polymer is in such detail and then and then outlines the myriad ways of using it. Before The New Clay was published, there were no other materials in English on polymer clay.
And so, The New Clay was born. You already know the rest of the story.
Here are some other pictures from the meeting.