Saturday, January 10, 2009

Blitz of Color - Bits of History

Legendary Jewelrymakers and the Chameleon Medium

It's clay-like in texture, but it's not ceramic clay. It's malleable but takes permanent form in an oven, not a kiln. It's colored in the package, not glazed. It doesn't break when dropped, but can be cut with a tissue blade. It comes more from the laboratory than from the earth.

It will transfer images, and can be sanded and buffed to a fine finish.

It sometimes looks smooth like china, or rough like volcanic rocks. It imitates natural stones like jade and turquoise, and can look like varnished lacquered wood or fossilized bone.

How did it get its start, what's the history of this changeling that can mimic so many other finishes and materials so successfully?

In the 1940's, Zenith Products in Illinois manufactured industrial fastener materials and coatings. Like so many things that don't turn out the way they were originally intended, it developed a material for use as a thermal transfer compound to transfer heat away from electrical transformer cores, but the material was unsuccessful and it went on the shelf.

One day a visitor to the plant, the wife of an employee, started playing with the substance and the created figurine was baked in a lab testing oven. And polymer clay was unleashed in the mid 1960's.

Because it was a completely new type of art medium, many different uses were created by people experimenting with it. Some practices used for other materials were used on it, such as metalworking, ceramics, glass and paper.

Polymer clay is soft and malleable before baking, and can be shaped and manipulated. It doesn't dry out over time, and regains its stiffness by being chilled if it is overworked. Once baked it can be carved, sanded, buffed and painted. It can have a translucence, or be totally opaque. It can be drilled, inlaid or painted.

In the beginning, some artists were creating 2-D paintings on canvas, using the clay like a paint on canvas or wood. Some artists sculpt fine figures from it, including fantasy images. Miniatures are made with it, and imitations of food that look authentic down to the tiniest detail. One original use was in dollmaking, and polymer clay is still heavily used in creating hands, feet and faces for figurines.

Two of the original innovators with polymer clay were David Forlano and Steven Ford. They started collaborating on jewelry designs in 1988, with caning, bright colors and complex patterns. They are featured in Craft In America for their innovative work.

Their creations are edgy and modern, with great shadings of color and depth.

In the beginning polymer clay work had difficulty and met with resistance for being recognized as true fine art, but Forlano and Ford helped change many minds about polymer clay and whether it could be used for serious artistic work.

Easily formed, molded and manipulated, many artists find polymer clay to be a liberating material for working out new ideas and creating new and challenging designs.

With 2008 marking 20 years of their collaboration, Forlano and Ford are still working together and making groundbreaking new visual pieces, both wearable and sculptural, and finding new ways to combine polymer clay with wood, metal and wire to make creative new images and wearables.

From the tiny mosaics created in the late 1990's at City Zen Cane to the present day, their art is continually inspirational.

And I hope you find this series on legendary jewelrymakers inspiring, click on the tag at the bottom if you haven't read all of them.


SummersStudio said...

Thanks Lynn! I had no idea where the 'other' clay came from or how it got where it is today.

EmandaJ said...

Great post! I had no idea polymer clay was a failed experiment. ;^)

Fanciful Expressions said...

Wow, that was interesting. I had no idea where it came from or got it's start. Thanks for sharing that.


LLYYNN said...

Take a peek at the work done by Ford and Forlano - it's amazing what can be done with this humble little clay - fantastic!

Melissa J. Lee said...

I loved this post, Lynn. I wasn't familiar with the history of polymer clay, either! Very interesting!

SarahKelley said...

This is some of the most wonderful polymer jewelry I've seen.