What a Faberge Egg Can Teach Us About the Value of Polymer Art

What characteristics might a Faberge Egg share with a work of finely-crafted polymer by an artist of the caliber of Ford and Forlano, Jeff Dever, Kathleen Dustin, or Dan Cormier? Much more than you think as it turns out.

We consider some things to be intrinsically valuable. Many people think that gold, for instance, is intrinsically valuable because it has been prized since ancient times. Others argue that gold’s value is a social convention, and that there’s nothing about the nature of the material that makes it any more or less desirable than, say, silver or granite. I’m not going to argue the point here.

But I do have another point to make. A few years ago, an unidentified man bought a golden ornament at a jumble sale. He knew the item was genuine gold, and he was hoping to sell it for scrap and make a $500.00 profit. And, had the ornament been sold for scrap, the man would have gotten a respectable return on his original investment, and would have walked away with a few hundred dollars. Because that’s what the materials in the tiny gold ornament were worth.

Only the ornament was a genuine Faberge egg, which the man discovered when he typed the word “egg,” and the letters inscribed on the tiny clock housed inside the egg, into Google on his computer. Of course, he had to have an expert evaluate the egg, but in the end it was, in fact, a genuine Faberge egg that had been missing for years. It was worth millions. Or, at least, that is what the appraisers predicted someone was likely to pay for it. You can read the whole story here.

Antiques expert Kieran McCarthy, who evaluated the egg, had this to say:

“[The man] didn’t look upon [the egg as] a work of art at all. He saw that it was pretty and it was nice, but he was buying on intrinsic value. … The essence of Faberge’s work is craftsmanship. It’s the beauty of design and the conceiving of that object. . .This is what that object is about, this craftsmanship and demonstration of skill. If you’re not looking for it, you won’t see it.

The man knew nothing about antiques or fine craftsmanship. He estimated the value of the egg’s materials correctly, but vastly “underestimated its value as a work of art.”

Which brings me back to polymer. Yes, polymer is only plastic. It is what the artist (like those mentioned above and many others) brings to it that gives it value. So the next time someone devalues polymer work because it’s “just polymer,” don’t whine about it. Tell them the story of the Faberge egg. And then tell it to yourself, and work on your craftsmanship.

More Earring History

I have fried my brains this week helping to plan Clayathon 2023 at the Seaview Hotel in Galloway, NJ next February. It was easier to plan my wedding. We are all hoping that people will feel safe enough to attend and that COVID will not take a major surge, although winter is not the best time for indoor conferences. Our last two conferences were virtual. We will have a virtual component this year, but Clayathon started as a live event and is going back to its roots.

I have a bunch of polymer projects on my work table right now in various stages of completion. I continue to make earrings. The pictures below are of earring I’ve made through the years and the techniques I’ve tried include lampworking, ceramics, metal etching, resin, wirework and enameling. It’s been fun.

More earring history here.

ArtSci Designs

I made my way to the home of ArtSci Designs this weekend for an open house and to see the beautiful polymer jewelry that my friend Terri makes in her Conshohocken studio.

Terri is a scientist who spends most of her days looking at the microverse through a scanning electron microscope. She translates the microverse into art you can wear. Here are just a few of her creations: bracelets in a color for everyone. She makes other kinds of jewelry, too-earrings, pendants, and necklaces mixing in sterling chains and findings, semi precious gems and handmade glass beads.

Terri has a lot of shows scheduled in the Northeast in the coming months. Follow ArtSci Designs on Instagram here, or Facebook here, to see where she’ll land next.

Martha Makes a Slab

My friend Patty asked me if I wanted to participate in a craft fair with her. I said yes even though I don’t do many of these, and don’t even know if we’ll be accepted. I went into my workshop and pulled out a bunch of earring components I made a couple of years ago.

Bletch! I didn’t remember them being so ugly! I threw them all away before I took pictures. Good riddance. I decided to try my hand at slab making. Here’s some pictures.

Start with a slab
Add squares and cut strips
Add red dots
Blue slices look sloppy so out they go.
Get out the extruder!
Add dark blue snakes and some simple canes
Cover with parchment paper and smooth over
Cut out shapes. I’m also experimenting with making my own cutters. I’ll post more on this in the future.
Shapes
Baked shapes. Earring maybe?

A Trip Down Memory Lane in Polymer Bracelets.

The other day, I pulled the bracelets pictured below out of a cabinet in my workshop (where they have been gathering dust since before I started blogging, some time back in the Mesozoic era.) I realized that most of the teachers and artists who inspired the pieces might not be that well known today. So I’ve included some links in case anyone is interested in checking out artists like Tory Hughes or Gwen Gibson, or any of the other polymer pioneers no longer with us.

Sources: Chris Dupouy Creating Your Own Antique Jewelry: Taking Inspiration from Great Museums Around the World, Gwen Gibson, Tory Hughes, Polymer – The Chameleon Clay, Margaret Regan, Pier Voulkos

There’s no better source for the history of polymer clay art than the Polymer Art Archive.

.

Diane and Patty at Post

January and February are the bleakest months of the year on my calendar. That’s why I’m happy to be able to reach back into the pile of pictures I took, and interviews I conducted last year, and bring a little color a bleary January. A highlight was Diane Litten and Patty Pickup’s stop on last years’ Philadelphia Open Studio Tour

I met Diane years ago and knew her primarily as an artist who fashioned sophisticated and unique earrings out of silver wire that she knitted on tiny needles. Alas, don’t have any pictures of these remarkable pieces.

I have learned since then that Diane considers herself to be primarily a fiber artist. She’s self taught, unrestrained by tradition, and influenced by whatever she finds interesting. Her work looks complex, but is deceptively simple, polished, inventive, and fun. This is no happy accident; Diane is not afraid to play with her materials to see how far she can push them. Something more of us should do. Here are some pictures.

Brooch and necklace with magnetic clasp
Display piece from a former show.

Here’s some links and info on Diane. Take a look at her Facebook page here. Follow Diane on Instagram here. Take a look at some work she did with Group Motion, here.

Patty Pickup is no stranger to my little blog. Her last appearance on the Philadelphia Open Studio Tours was with polymer artist Terri Powell (ArtSci designs.). This year, Patty was able to make it in person to Donna Kato’s Atlantic Clay Escape, and come home with some new skills and ideas. Here are some pictures of the results.

It looks like the Atlantic City Escape is going to be one of the last live polymer events we’re going to have for awhile. But a bunch of us, including Patty, are working hard to make Virtual Clayathon 2022 a reality.

Magnetic Clasp for Polymer

Here’s one of my favorite clasps for polymer necklaces. It’s a rare earth magnet, hidden in a side bead. You open the clasp by sliding the bead open. It’s strong and because it’s not located at the back of the neck, it’s not constantly under tension and in danger of opening. Who said that necklace clasps had to be on the back of the neck anyway? Put them where they will work. They should be either part of the design or blend in.

All of these beads are hollow except the black ones in the back, so the necklace is very light. It’s also comfortable to wear because the tube in the back rests comfortably against the neck.
And here’s the clasp. It’s not baked into the clay. I used black Apoxie Sculpt to fix it in place. That stuff is strong! I would have to break the bead to get the magnet out.
The clasp bead closed. I would have liked to have had no visible seam on the bead but that proved impossible for me. But I can say that so far, no one has been able to tell that there was a hidden clasp in the bead until I showed them.

for a great selection of rare earth magnets, try K&J Magnetics.

And a New Twist (for me) on Polymer

As the Irish playwright so aptly said, “The world is in a state of chassis.” I won’t go into it all-I am sure you know what I mean. I won’t say that WordPress has made it any better by choosing this time to introduce a new blog post editor. But I try to maintain a sense of perspective. I once shared a house with an older woman, and the night I moved in, I asked her whether there was a washer and dryer we could use. “No,” she replied, “but I lived Second World War in Soviet Union and believe me, you can get used to anything.” Hard to argue with that.

Fleisher Art Memorial‘s pottery studio will be reopening soon with new rules and procedures to keep us safe during the pandemic. And I am working with an incredible team of people to plan a virtual Clayathon for February, 2021. In the meantime, I am participating in the Southern Connecticut Polymer Clay Guild‘s online caning challenges and design challenges. Caning creates a lot of scraps. So I decided to use them and try my hand at making Torpedo beads.

You normally think of earrings when you think of Torpedo beads, so that’s where I started out. But then I decided to branch out and to incorporate non-polymer elements into the designs. I spent a lot of time last summer making fabric jewelry, and I had some gorgeous, vintage rayon embroidery floss in bright colors that was singing out to me. I used this to attach Torpedo beads to one another with the help of screw eyes.

It’s a bit tricky to knot the slick rayon floss securely, but I think I managed to do it with reinforced Surgeon’s knots.

Here are some more variations. And as I make more canes for the challenges, I’ll have more scraps to try. I’m also going to try some other fibers to attach the beads to each other. The sky’s the limit. And maybe I will even learn how to use this confounded block editor!

The Secret of the Paradox Cane

Let me start out by saying that this is not a post on how to make a Paradox cane, rather, it’s a post on how I learned an easier way to put together a Paradox cane.  Some background:

I have been having a ball these past few weeks trying out the various canes put forth in the cane challenges sponsored by the Southern Connecticut Polymer Clay Guild.   We are given a link to a tutorial or a video on how to make a polymer cane.  We post the results on the Guild’s private Facebook  page and share what we’ve learned in online meetings.

The first cane challenge was the Paradox cane, a beautiful cane that lends itself to so many variations.    Here’s a picture of one that I made.

Paradox6 sided

Motley Woods has a good tutorial for making a Paradox cane, as does Polymer Clay Workshop on YouTube.  There are many others which I have not seen and a great many variations on how make one.  Meg Newberg’s tutorial on Etsy comes highly recommended.  You can purchase it here.  If I ever get back into serious caning, Meg’s tute is probably one of the first tutorials I would purchase because I’ve heard so many great things about it.

The Paradox cane patterns that I have seen consist of three  triangle components joined together and formed into a larger triangle which comprises the cane.  A big problem many people face when assembling a paradox cane is putting the three component triangles together to form a larger triangle.   After you select your clay, arrange it in accordance with the method you are using,  and form it into a square, you are normally directed to  form that square into a triangle, reduce it, and cut the triangle into three pieces to form the final cane.

 

And this is where the problem comes in. Most people think Equilateral  triangle when they think of a triangle, but that won’t work here with the Paradox cane.  Instead, think Isosceles triangle.  Like this. 4IsoscelesTriangle

From there, it’s easy to alter the triangle as per the instructions, cut the cane into thirds, and then fit the three pieces together into a triangle for the final cane.

 

 

 

ThreeIsocelesTrianglesTogetherForming Isosceles triangles enables you to bring the edge of each component triangle right up to the edge of the neighboring component triangle.  The sections in the middle are pinched into wave shapes that interlock and become solid when all the components are joined and compressed into a larger  triangle which forms the cane.

Paradox

And the cane is done!  From there, you decide how you want to reassemble and/or reduce your creation.Paradox 2 canes

 

 

 

Coming Together at Clayathon

Polymer artist Lindly Haunani is currently in the hospital with multiple severe injuries she suffered in a car accident last week. She is going to have a very long, painful, expensive recovery.

Lindly was scheduled to teach a class at Clayathon which started yesterday.  Her friend and collaborator Maggie Maggio is flying in to teach Lindly’s class for her.

The Clayathon participants have planned some extra conference activities in support of Lindly.

Watch the Creative Journey Studios website here   for exciting news about Sue and Ellen’s ambitious long term project, “52 Weeks for Lindly”.

Most importantly, Cynthia Tinapple has created a Go Fund Me page for Lindly here. Please support Lindly’s Page on your social media and email it to your contacts, and make a donation if you can.