The Aging Metal Clay Community

Recently, I learned of the passing of Silver Clay guru, Mary Ann Devos, whom I had met 15 years ago when she certified me in Art Clay Level 1 and Senior. Between those two certifications, we spent the weekend in New York City together and went to see Miss Saigon on Broadway. We had both been RNs, and had much in common. I got to know Mary Ann fairly well, and we kept in touch for the next couple of months, until she called me to let me know she was leaving Art Clay USA (as I learned later, to help organize PMC Connection) and would I like to apply for her old job as Director of Education.

Life took a serious turn then and, apart from social banter when we met at shows, we really never spoke again. I was in my 40s in the year 2000, and Mary Ann was not far ahead of that. But I mention this now, because I regret not staying in touch. We were both on the cusp of this exciting adventure that was metal clay, and I wish the circumstances had been different and that I had been able to overcome the competitiveness of the Companies involved to appreciate her experience.

Which leads me to the kernel of thought that returns to me again and again of late. How can we replace ourselves with younger versions to keep this medium going years from now? How do we find these young people and interest them in metal clay? I applaud the new metal clay organization, IMPACT, for incorporating this need into its strategy. But how do we accomplish this mentoring of the young? It’s obvious that the median age of metal clay user is closer to 50-60. How do we lower that? Who do we target and  how?

I know that the Education Committee of IMPACT is working on that concern, and no doubt they will come up with programs to address this issue.

But as metal clay users, it really behooves all of us to become Mentors, to find interested young people (and by “young” I mean from kids all the way to 20s and 30s) to introduce to metal clay and all that this medium has to offer.

It means contacting Middle Schools, High Schools and Park Districts and offering your services to hold demonstrations, make-n-takes and the like. Of course you need to find out if there is a budget to allow the supplies to be covered, but I would not discount a demonstration for lack of one. Ten grams of clay (and I’m talking silver) can go a long way in a room of 30 or so observers. And giving them a handout of places to view videos, take classes and receive other information about metal clay is a great way to start the mentoring process.

I can’t tell you how many firing demos I’ve done over the years, handing out small, stamped, silver charms to people who had NO IDEA that metal clay existed, and who had watched the process, enthralled while clay magically turned into pure silver. Alchemy. Pure Alchemy.

Whatever it was that prompted two Japanese Companies to develop this incredible medium 20 years ago, it is up to each of us to make sure that in another 20 years metal clay doesn’t fade into obscurity. And don’t think it can’t. Silver clay sales had reached a peak in the middle 2000s, but have declined since the base metal clays have been released and the price of silver peaked at $43. Although the price of silver is barely half that, now, sales have not recovered. And the continued use of the plethora of base metal clays have kept the medium at a hobby level. I know that statement riles some, and this is a contentious subject, and many will not agree with me. But in order to survive as a viable metals medium , I believe we have to rise above copper and bronze and show that finished works in precious metals can rival any that traditional metalsmithing can produce. And there is noone to speak to this issue but ourselves, those that believe that using powdered metallurgy to create stunning fine silver jewelry is a relevant, lasting medium that deserves its place among fabrication, CAD-CAM, laser welding and casting for now and for decades to come. Is metal clay, specifically silver clay, worth the fight? I’ve put 15 years of my life into this medium and I say, YES! What about you?

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “The Aging Metal Clay Community

  1. I totally agree with the need to youthen the metal clay community. As a teacher of metal clay (and other media) at a non-profit community arts center, I see the need to welcome and encourage younger enthusiasts. Not just metal clay, but most of our media are used by an older group of artists and students. How do we invite, intrigue, and keep the interest of younger adults? I fear that too many (all?) of them are happy to spend their money at Starbucks, health clubs, and Charming Charlies.
    We offer two exploration days each year. There, too, the audience skews over 40. I am guilty of not participating enough in those opportunities. I wish a good cup of espresso was the answer. Maybe yoga classes out in our adjacent prairies would draw the masses? Or what about a match-making through art promotion to welcome males and females?
    I and my art-making friends are open to suggestions.

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    1. I totally agree and thank you for a beautifully written post. It came through my email feed and was truly a highlight to my day. I’m a beginner in PMC and intermediate in Polymer Clay…and I’m in my 60’s. We have been discussing this very issue at Artists Unhinged, a creative group that I started last year to promote Polymer Clay and PMC art. We decided to offer a modest scholarship (1st $500, 2nd $250, 3rd $100) to college students for a juried competition with polymer clay. Next year we hope to expand it to PMC. We contacted the art departments of our local colleges. In our case, we are in the metro-NYC area and have a lot of colleges within our local area. The college students will make a piece in polymer clay and it will be juried by some of the leading artists in that field. We have provided them with basic instruction, intentionally not over educating them in the medium. We want them to think outside the box; they are young and live outside the box!

      After the Artists Unhinged event in April, I’m going to contact all of the art departments and offer to give a demo with samples at the colleges. I’m not sure if it will work, but it was all I could think of to be proactive about this problem…i.e. getting younger blood into the polymer clay and PMC mediums.

      I’m also teaching an elementary class in my home once a week. Let’s get them young! My class is ages 10-13 and is mostly made up of boys and they LOVE it! We rotate between polymer clay and PMC…one project polymer and the next PMC. I never cease to be amazed at how creative and original they are. They started out with the cutesy stuff, but then moved on to game pieces, “guy” charms, video game inspired pieces, and mixed media…they are fearless and nothing is unacceptable to them.

      We have to be proactive and take steps to introduce these mediums to kids – PK through college age. Young people will try anything and usually give it their all. My personal feelings are that we have to make an effort to reach them. I don’t think it is realistic to believe that they will stumble upon us and our polymer clay and PMC mediums. We also have to break down the barriers that place these two mediums into the “craft” arena instead of the “fine art” arena. We have to force this change by elevating our work, posting about our work, and educating the public about our work…and our process.

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  2. There are probably a whole lot of reasons why younger folks have not taken to silver clay the way we’d like, but I think that the single largest reason is cost. I live and teach in a rural area where median household income is very low. Young people struggle to pay for children’s activities, let alone their own. And the cost of silver clay is prohibitive for them, let alone the cost of developing enough tools to really have some fun with clay. As a retiree on a fixed income, I feel their pain. I fear that until the Japanese companies reduce the prices of their products, there will be very little growth in users. The introduction of less expensive clays will serve to eat into their marketshare, as well, if it has not already begun to do so. The prices need to come down. That is the first order of business.

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