In 1996, a group of jewelry designers, bead artists, and sculptors gathered at Ravensdale, a campground in Seattle, Washington. This diverse group had one thing in common—polymer clay. A relatively new medium, considered little more than a toy, this brightly colored, maleable material fused to a hard, durable plastic at low temperatures. These artists knew polymer clay was more than a toy, that it deserved respect.
One of those foremost among them was Kathleen Dustin, a pioneer in the medium. She had been working with polymer clay since 1972. By the time the Seattle Polymer Clay Guild held the Convergence at Ravensdale, her work had been featured in books and publications, among them the prestigious “Ornament Magazine”. At Ravensdale she introduced the first of her evening bags. Incorporated in its construction were all of the varied techniques that draw artists to the medium including sculpture, cane work (a technique borrowed from glass artists), layered canes, clay intaglio, inlay, and a host of new techniques Kathleen has invented. That evening bag was one of the first of her Village Women series.
Since then, Kathleen has expanded the possibilities of polymer clay. Her ability to draw, and draw well, enabled her to inscribe the clay with faces rich in emotion. These colored pencil masterpieces, protected by paper thin layers of translucent clay, replaced the sculpted faces of her earlier work while broadening the design possibilities. Kathleen surrounded the drawing with intricate and colorful patterns, again combining these diverse design elements into a sculptural whole.
Recently, Kathleen has focused on the world closer to home, the natural world underfoot, and the Smithsonian has honored her for her explorations. Using her keen observational skills and talent as a sculptor, she has created realistic whimsically cracked rocks, giant seed pods, blades of wind blown grass, and subtly hued flowers. Still, thoroughly utilitarian, Kathleen Dustin’s purses are the very best of wearable art.
Article by Katherine Dewey