Is Metal Clay now an accepted part of mainstream Arts & Crafts?

I just got back from a spectacular cruise: Mixed Media Cruise put on by Art Across the Oceans, aka Lisa Pavelka/Lisa Lambright/Joan Conner. I’ve been going to these cruises for almost 10 years, mostly as an attendee, but I did a couple of cruises as an instructor. As an aside, I encourage all of you to take one of these cruises. Not only are they organized to within an inch of their lives (a good thing) but the people you meet and the ability to interact on a personal level with instructors you may (or may not) idolize is worth the money.

This cruise had 4 instructors: Lillian Chen, whose contemporary wire and Swarovski work is really stunning; Lisa Pavelka, an Art Clay Master Instructor/polymer clay guru who was teaching epoxy clay and crystals; Ann Mitchell, all rivets and copper and nickel cuff, and Christi Friesen, who has made sculpting polymer clay into fantasy creatures and not-quite-real animals a high art. Even though I’ve been wire sculpting for going on 30 years, Lillian brought new techniques to my repertoire, and although my self-inflicted frustration in Ann’s class had me cursing in Italian and English, it was enlightening and entertaining. I gave my finished cuff to Christi, since I can’t wear copper.

A few of the evenings had all the Instructors laying out their handmade treasures for sale. I partook as much as my budget allowed. Ann Mitchell had her bold and serious cuffs, necklaces and bracelets out, and I was really pleased to see some metal clay in there as part of a few pieces. In that moment I missed teaching metal clay on the cruise, the difficulty of which has all but eliminated it from being repeated in the future. No open flame allowed on the ship (God forbid!), and the paranoia and resistence on the part of the cruise industry when hearing the word “kiln” cannot be overemphasized. The last cruise I taught Art Clay on was the Mixed Metal Clay Cruise to Alaska in 2012. Highly successful, but Carnival had been the only cruise line at that time allowing the (gulp and whisper) “kiln”, and the service, food and overall ambiance was less than stellar.

All that being said, there were 53 artists on the cruise, many of them polymer clay artists, some beaders and a few metal clay artists. Add significant others, and the total was around 80. There was a great deal of camaraderie, some newbies who, by the end of the cruise, had been taken into the bosoms of those more seasoned, and huge amounts of generous technique sharing.

In the past, even though I consider myself a metal clay pro, I have sometimes felt on the fringe of the “usual” list of creative jewelry arts: beading, polymer clay, flameworking, etc. I suppose, simply because metal clay was the newest entry, and so many people just hadn’t either heard of it, or experienced anyone who used it. There was always a bit of explaining about what it is, what you do with it, etc. And at the ship’s breakfast and lunch tables, when interacting with the cruise’s general population, that was still the case.

But it was very gratifying and satisfying when the introductions were made among our group, that metal clay was just another technique among many. It may seem a little thing in the big picture, but I was consciously aware of how everyone nodded when I said I was a metal clay artist and I saw no looks of utter befuddlement or, worse, dismissal.

Again, it may seem a little thing to say that no one blinked, but after 20 years out there, it seems metal clay is holding its own, and its versatility has paid off as we are now seeing it appear in virtually every form of craft, from leather to crystal, to wire, to traditional metals, to ceramics, glass and more.

That’s why it is SOOOOOO very important that those of us who work in metal clay continue to support our medium, and when you see advertisements for Artisan Craft Expo, July 9-11 (maybe 12th), 2015, we seriously think about attending classes in metal clay or the other supporting media classes being held those days.

If you want to attend a conference that is going to continue (we hope) to grow into something special, one that DOESN’T have a GAZILLION classes morning, noon and night, charges you reasonably for those classes and values its instructors and exhibitors as much as it values its attendees, then hike, fly or drive to the South Point Hotel and Casino in Vegas in July. Check out http://www.artisancraftexpo.com. Las Vegas Management, which is organizing the show, has no brand affiliation of any kind, and just wants to provide an instructive, quality event.

I would love to see metal clay artists coming together annually to share new techniques, and new products. I know that a few of you SHOULD have been instructing at Artisan Craft Expo, but didn’t see the importance of the BIG PICTURE and demanded too much money, or too many perks. Sometimes you just have to recognize that it’s important to make it work for the sake of perpetuating the medium.

Well, ‘nuf said. I had a helluva time in the Caribbean, met a shwack of cool people, sipped a LOT of fruity/rummy drinks, and felt rejuvenated by the classes and the fuzzy feelings of fellow artists.

Check out http://www.artacrosstheoceans.com if you are interested in being a part of future craft cruises. I’m already saving my pennies for the next one!

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