We are having a bit of polymer history this year at Clayathon. I have donated the items I received years ago in polymer clay swaps for Sherman Oberson to curate. Some items will be auctioned off. But everybody will be able to see the collection of polymer pens, beads, canes, jewelry and more made in the late 1990’s. Most of the work is primitive by today’s standards and most of mine is downright ugly, but the learning curve was higher in those days than is now. Many swappers included notes and cards with their stuff sharing what they did and how they did it. None of this would have happened without the Internet.
Polymer Clay didn’t come into its own as an art medium until the advent of the Internet. Before then, polymer artists found one another pretty much by serendipity. A few of these artists founded the National Polymer Clay Guild. The National Guild started holding conferences. But as the Internet came into its own, more and more people started surfing, found one another, and connected.
The most popular polymer site in those days was Polymer Clay Central. This was back in the mid to late 1990’s before Leigh and Stephen Ross took over the site from Arlene Thayer. (I was not able to find a screen shot on The Wayback Machine because it only started tracking the site in 2000.)
People flocked to Polymer Clay Central for information, news, and to participate in swaps. It worked like this: Someone would volunteer to host a swap, decide on a theme and would post a call for participants in Polymer Clay Central. People would sign up and make items according to the theme-one for every participant-and mail them to the host or Swap Meister along with a small amount of money to cover postage. The Swap Meister would sort through everything and send each participant a box filled with everyone’s creations.
Leigh Ross recalled the excitement of receiving a swap box: “Swaps were sometimes the only way that we could actually see, in person, someone’s work besides our own! I remember the excitement of opening the “swap box” when it arrived in the mail, and the joy of seeing others who were as crazy about polymer clay as I was!”
Here are some of my favorite things from the swaps. There will be more at Clayathon.
You can see many more swap pictures on Polymer Clay Central here and here.