Please start by telling us a little about yourself and your studio.
I’ve been working with polymer clay since 2001. I’m passionate about this medium, because it has nearly unlimited application to a wide range of art forms. From life-sized sculpture to tiny beads, this medium can do it all.
My first love with clay is beads and jewelry. It was seeing another artist’s barrettes on her website that really inspired me to try making my own jewelry and hair accessories. We were living on my husband’s single income with six children, so money for jewelry was tight. I remember thinking to myself, “Hey, I can make jewelry that complements my outfits and it would be really inexpensive.” I still have the very first piece of jewelry I made with polymer clay.
Since then, it’s been an amazing journey. I’ve grown a hobby into a full-time profession, with a company that has three divisions. The primary division is my Memorial Beads line of jewelry, which converts fresh or dried flowers into beautiful works of art. Whether it is a bracelet, candle holder, or ballpoint pen, Memorial Beads takes the simple gift of fragile flowers and turns it into a lasting keepsake.
My studio is currently in my home basement, which is about 900 square feet. I have three “stations” in my studio that organize the process of making Memorial Beads – one for preparing the ingredients, one for creating shapes, and another for assembling jewelry or gift items. Having three stations allows my family members and assistants to come in and pick up a project while it’s in progress, and not have to hunt for it among thirty other ongoing orders.
If there’s one thing that defines you, what is it?
I want my art to have a purpose. It needs to mean something; it needs to have an emotional connection. With me, with the buyer, with the receiver of the gift – there’s a synergistic principle at work in my brain where we’re all connected through the item that passes through each of our hands.
While we are working on a customer’s order, it’s not just an order. There’s usually a grieving family involved. So the energy surrounding the issue is charged with emotion, and we are consciously aware that these items are going to cause an emotional response when received. The grief will open up again, as they see the bits of flowers from the funeral embedded in the jewelry or candle holder or key chain. Those flowers indelibly tie to the loved one who passed away. So we focus on making this keepsake with our own compassion and heartfelt prayer for those grieving families.
What role does your family play in your art?
Actually, our large family plays a pretty big role. Some work more often than others, but they’ve all taken a hand in doing everything from crushing dried flowers to packing shipments. My daughter and oldest daughter-in-law are most active in the business on a regular basis. My daughter is always coming up with new sketches for jewelry designs, and my daughter-in-law is a professional videographer/photographer who lends her talented eye to some of the company’s photography. In fact, the photos of the pretty young woman who is displaying the jewelry in my ArtFire shop is my daughter, and the photographer is my daughter-in-law.
Where do you live and what is it like?
I live in Peoria, Illinois. It’s about halfway between Chicago and St. Louis. Peoria is a city of nearly 200,000 residents. It has a mild midwestern climate, with a few feet of snow each winter and a mostly mild but humid summer. Peoria sits in a river valley with rolling hills on either side. It’s very green here, during the warmer months, with a wide variety of wild and cultivated plant life.
Summer is my favorite time of year. Our family members are avid fishermen, and take advantage of every opportunity to go camping and fishing. I’ll often take a TV tray with me when we go, so that I can work on my clay while I fish on the bank of the river or a nearby lake. We go hiking, as there are lots of natural wooded public areas. Swimming at the lake is something I love to do when we get a chance to go.
Where did you learn your medium?
I was introduced to polymer clay in the winter of 2001. A friend was hosting a mother-daughter party. On the invitation it said to bring two packages of polymer clay. I procrastinated on buying the clay ahead of time, instead choosing to stop and pick it up on the way to the party. Assuming it was a craft product, I went to Wal-Mart. But all they carried was a rather large 10-pack of the clay. I only needed two… but alas had to buy the whole thing.
At the party, we each made cute little snowman figurines. We still have those snowmen, and we bring them out onto our mantle every Christmas. But after the party and I was left with 8 unopened packages of clay, and wondered what in the world to do with it. So I turned to the internet. I was absolutely gobstopped by the stunningly beautiful things that could be made with this medium. Dolls, wall hangings, door plaques, drawer pulls, even license plate covers! And of course, there was jewelry. That was the thing that tipped the scales for me. I’ve had a love affair with this medium ever since.
What are your goals with your ArtFire studio?
My goals are to introduce people to the concept of floral gifts embedded forever in polymer and resin, making a permanent keepsake from a floral gift. While most often those flowers come at a time of great loss, sometimes those flowers come from a bridal bouquet or a prom date. Anniversary flowers are common. And so are older, dried flowers from events and funerals that people just didn’t know what to do with. The flowers are dry, and sortof brown, and it’s been ten years. They ask me if I can still work with something like that, and I give them a resounding yes!
Memorial Beads are a good alternative to the people who are uncomfortable with the idea of wearing human ashes encased in glass beads. Their desire is to have something, some token from the loved one that has passed to wear close to their hearts, but they just can’t bring themselves to wear the ashes. We offer an alternative that doesn’t carry a stigma to it, and that also provides a memorial gift for people whose loved ones are buried rather than cremated (which is more often the case).
How did you come to selling online?
Back in 2002, I had a couple of friends who had encouraged me to try an online auction site for my beads. At the time I was making millefiore focal beads and they did become quite popular on that auction site. In the years since then, I’ve broadened my online market to include five online sales sites, as well as selling directly from my own websites. I believe online selling is critical to my business, and sites like ArtFire produce a range of benefits for an Artisan to get their work into the public eye.
What is the best piece of advice you can give other artists?
I get asked this question quite a bit. And I have two things to say: first, don’t be impatient. Developing a body of work takes time. Practice, practice, practice. It is going to take you a number of years before you discover your voice with your medium. Second, I would surround yourself with a wide variety of techniques to master, but always focus on the finishing. That is one of the things that sets a professional artisan apart from a hobbyist. If your finishing techniques are perfected while you are in the process of discovering your niche, then you are well on your way to success.
Why do you think that buying and selling handmade products benefits society?
I think that segments of society – the artisans and collectors – certainly benefit, there’s no doubt about that. I think there’s something intangible but real about the connection between a buyer and an artist. An invisible thread forever connects them, from the buyers’ point of view. Every time they look at the piece they bought, they will remember the transaction and the artist. It’s indelible.