Monday, March 16, 2009

I am sooo glad I signed up for the Amulets and Talismans class with Robert Dancik that Alison Lee of Craftcast set up, sponsored by Whole Lotta Whimsey! Tonight's the last class and I'm sad already -- what an informative and generous instructor Robert is. The class format has been interesting too, with a ning group set up for the class members to share photos of their work and communicate about what they've learned. Cyberclasses are nothing new in the academic world, but in terms of an art class, this was my first experience and it worked out really well. Last Monday night, I was in the midst of working with a new realtor and keeping up with my son's comings and goings on his spring break home from college, so I was kind of distracted, but Alison graciously posts the recording of the class so we can catch up with anything we missed. I understand these recordings of all three classes will be available for sale sometime in the near future from the Craftcast website, and I recommend them to anyone who is interested in introducing narrative into their work.

The pieces I've created so far are not too different from my previous work, because I have never been able to get comfortable making work that is merely decorative. I want everything I make to call upon the power of the ancestors in some way, to evoke a feeling of spiritual blessing or protection in some way. Ancient-looking surfaces and the wabi-sabi look of wear and use have always compelled me much more than a highly-polished surface of sterling silver or gold, though the high degree of craftsmanship required to produce these surfaces is certainly worthy of the greatest respect. It's just not compelling to me personally in any kind of art, but specifically in jewelry, where I like to see evidence of the hand of the maker and to feel that there is a historic basis for the form.

In college, I majored in art history and minored in anthropology, and I have always been particularly interested in the material cultures of Asia and India. A few years ago I began to explore the idea that polymer clay could be manipulated to recreate the materials of the ancient amulets and talismans I found so fascinating. This interest escalated to an obsession after I made a strand of graduated amber beads following the color recipe in Polymer: The Chameleon Clay by Victoria Hughes. I had seen many examples of the real thing and had the opportunity to closely examine some in a friend's collection, and knew I would never be able to afford a strand of the real buttery gorgeous glowing real thing. The strand I made back then convinced me that polymer clay could be used to make a very convincing substitute, and I spent the better part of a year making jade, lapis, turquoise, and coral artifacts to populate my little museum of reproduction artifacts. With each successful reproduction, a little of my resistance to the idea that "it's only polymer clay" continued to fall. The techniques I had learned from books and developed on my own convinced me that polymer clay is nothing to apologize for and is a perfectly valid art material on its own. Soon an intense desire to add metal to the pieces drove me to learn basic silversmithing skills so I could set them in bezels. This particular Buddha is set in a fine silver and sterling bezel and represents the overcoming of my last reservation about this exciting medium which continues to challenge and stimulate me to this day.
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Carol Wiebe said...

Thank you so much for sharing this in depth description of how you approach your work. I, too, always gravitate towards the meaningful, with a capital M. It's simply my nature. Our art reflects our nature, if it is authentic.

And there is no need to apologize for the materials we choose to use (or that choose us). The validity imparted to the work we do comes from us . . . how we manipulate the materials to say what we have to say. It's a mystery, really. Some have to work with gold, and others are drawn to packing tape (I met an artist who made incredible, life size figures out of packing tape).

Personally, I prefer computer paper. I'm also using paper towels in my work. I am absolutely mesmerized by the process of turning dross into gold (just call me Rumpelstiltskin).

So, who's judging? If you are stimulated and challenged, you are leading a full life, artistic and otherwise!

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