Abigail Adams Pendant: Making Historical Pieces

A few years back, the John Adams television miniseries was being filmed in the area where I live. A metalsmith friend was asked to create jewelry for various scenes. One scene involved John Adams giving his wife, Abigail, a scrimshaw pendant which is housed in the Adams Museum in Massachusetts. Since ivory can no longer be legally used by artists, my friend asked if I could reproduce it using the faux ivory technique in polymer clay. Of course I could! And since there was so much detail in the carving on the pendant, I could instead incorporate xerox transfer and save a boatload of time. The finished piece was placed in a gold plated sterling silver setting with a beautiful gold chain. And as is always the case, the scene in the miniseries wound up on the ‘cutting floor’.

I asked my fellow collaborator if she would mind if I made the pendants to sell. They would not include such an elaborate setting, but rather be more simple. She said to go for it.

To make a long story short, which includes the fact that my sister is a docent at a historical plantation, the museum heard about my pendants. And now for about six or seven years, the John Adams Museum includes the pendants in their shop. And I am tickled pink!!

The top three 'fails' are examples of using old, 'unfresh' copies.

The top three ‘fails’ are examples of using old, ‘unfresh’ copies. The bottom is a successful transfer, but backwards!

Black polymer clay is added to the successfully transferred pieces.

Black polymer clay was added to the successfully transferred pieces. The edges were sanded.

Since buffing is not an option, gloss is applied to give it a sheen.

Since buffing was not an option, gloss was applied to give it a sheen.

Next, a black polymer border was applied. I then formed a sterling silver bail with a s.s. bead, drilled a hole in the pendant, and adhered the bail to it.

Next, a black polymer border was added. I then formed a sterling silver bail with a s.s. bead, drilled a hole in the pendant, and adhered the bail to it.

To complete the historical 'look', I  used a ribbon necklace with sterling silver components.

To complete the historical ‘look’, I used a ribbon necklace with sterling silver components.

By the way, although I have never seen the actual piece on which these are based, I know two amazing facts about it. First, it has a glass cover, even though it is ivory. Second, the reason for the cover is that the leaves in tree are made of human hair. Amazing!

This Year’s Palette

Yes indeed, polymer clay does come in tons of colors and shades. But just like tubes of paint, I believe we should be color-mixing to make our work ‘our own’. Every January, I like to choose all the colors that I would like to use for the next twelve months. Browsing through magazines, photographs, Pinterest, paint cards, and fabric samples is my method of selection and elimination. Once I have narrowed it all down to around forty hues, the physical job of mixing the clay gets started. My goal is usually 5 colors a day. Mixing more than seven and my hands will let me know that they have been overworked. When each color is fully mixed, it is wrapped in wax paper. Now it’s time to have some fun and ‘make art’!

Here is a sample of ‘the method to my madness’.

The darker brown and yellow will be mixed to create a lighter brown. Ratio is 1:1.

The darker brown and yellow will be mixed to create a lighter brown. Ratio is 1:1.

A small food processor saves time and my hands!

A small food processor saves time and my hands!

First roll through the pasta machine.

First roll through the pasta machine.

Freshly finished new color!

Freshly finished new color!

Some examples of some of my polymer clay color palette for 2015IMG_5021_2 IMG_5013IMG_5008

Office Equipment and the Studio

There is this product out there called Lazertran Silk. It is wonderful for transferring images onto polymer clay. When I was first introduced to it, it brought back memories of my brothers’ model cars with tons of decals decorating them. This particular product allows you to print any image onto the ‘silk’ using a laser copier.

At my husband’s office, there is not just your ordinary laser printer. No, it does not use toner nor ink-jet. Nope, it uses wax! I call it the ‘crayola copier’. What is so neat about it, is that when the transferred images are copied onto the polymer clay and then cured in the oven, the heat melts the wax image into the clay. It has a much softer look to it than when the conventional copier is used. Sometimes it has its downside such as when the original color changes drastically. But that issue is so rare that it hardly needs mentioning.

This piece is my second mosaic bowl that I have recently completed. It is title ‘Nana’s Quilt Stash’.


Polymer clay tiles set into wooden bowl. Design process using Lazertran Silk. I used sanded grout.

To complete the underside of the bowl, I used acrylic paint, copper leaf, and made polymer clay feet.

To complete the underside of the bowl, I used acrylic paint, copper leaf, and made polymer clay feet.

Vacation for Inspiration.

Who doesn’t yearn to travel and explore new places?! Last year we took our second trip to Wyoming. (My husband and I dearly love the Southwest.) Sure Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and Jackson Hole were on our agenda, but we wanted to also explore new parts of Wyoming. I discovered that the second largest sand dune mass in the world is in the southwest area of the state. We ate our packed lunch atop one of them! We stopped at a nearby petroglyph site. And after driving for hours seeing dunes, wild horses, and antelope, suddenly we came upon the Red Desert. Unfortunately, my camera battery was dead by that time. But I made this bowl!

Polymer clay mosaic bowl with decorative papers.

Polymer clay mosaic bowl with decorative papers.

Papers were decoupaged onto wooden bowl base.

Papers were decoupaged onto wooden bowl base.

A Change is A-Brewing

An invitation went out to artists where I live. We were asked to make pieces for a teapot show. Well, I have been collecting old teapots from thrift shops with the intention of ‘upcycling’, or as my husband calls it, ‘angiefying’ them. They have been collecting dust for years. And right now, they still are. But I hope not for long! This challenge brought something out of me that I had not expected: use my handmade paper bowls to construct the teapot shape. And what fun it was! Having to figure out spout and handle issues led me to materials that had been only used for decorative purposes. Now they were used for structural support. Needless to say, I had a ton of fun with this piece. I expect more teapots in my artistic future! IMG_5337IMG_5338

Time To Clean And Purge

In 1997, my husband’s mom and my mom sold their homes where they had lived many decades, and moved into much smaller apartments. It was such a task sifting through all the ‘stuff’ that had been accumulated. Especially all the big items like furniture and appliances. After the ordeal was finally over, we both adopted the philosophy to ‘replace’ rather than ‘acquire’. And I have to say that we have pretty much been successful at that. It’s pretty easy to do since we live in a small house and there is limited space.

However, my studio is a totally different story. Being a mixed media artist makes it even worse. I kind of purged once after deciding to become a papermaker after being a weaver for quite a while. I sold a large Macomber floor loom and a ton of yarn. But I kept my eight harness portable Macomber and a cedar chest full of wool and linen.

But twenty-five years later, I feel like I am being swallowed up by what is filling my work space. So, these past few weeks I have sifted through every section of my studio and have boxed up all the things I have not used in years (or never used at all). I also am going through all the polymer clay canes that I have had for a while and no longer want to include them in any future work. A friend who is an occupational therapist in a nearby school system uses them or gives them to art teachers to use with their pupils. They are always so very appreciative of anything I give them. And it’s pretty neat that components I have made get a fresh purpose.

So here is most of what I have sifted out of my studio for a ‘yard sale’ this Saturday: IMG_3962 IMG_3928 IMG_3906 IMG_3891 IMG_3867 IMG_3864

And yes, I am selling all of this to make ‘room’ for something I need and have been wanting.It is the D.R.E.A.M. machine from Polymer Clay Express. And the word out there is that it is totally worth it!


Summer’s Just Flyin’ By!

Time flies when you’re having fun! This summer has been so full of extra-curricular events, I have almost forgotten where my studio is. (It is directly behind our house). So in anticipation of an autumn and winter chock full of shows, I’ve had to play catch-up the past couple of weeks. While working on some metal clay rings, I have also completed a couple of dozen light switch plates.

But I’m most excited about the present batch of handmade paper bowls that will be getting my creative attention the next few weeks – while I am also working on polymer clay platters and more switch plates. After I cast my bowls and they have dried, I brush a sizing on them. Sizing is what gives the paper surface strength and stability and makes the paper smooth and almost water repellent. Sizing is also added to the pulp during the papermaking process, and thus is called ‘internal sizing’. Here’s the batch of bowls presently drying on my back porch:IMG_3333

Some of you have inquired about which papermaking books I would recommend. Well since I had the camera in hand, I just grabbed up some of my favorites and laid them out and snapped a couple of photos. I am sure they are all still in publication.



A funny sizing story I just discovered. Methyl cellulose is my sizing of choice. It is a rather thick, viscous liquid…..and it ‘starred’ as the slime in ‘Ghostbusters’!!