Wendy comes from a background of creativity. “My dad was an architect and painter. I believe he gave me pencils and crayons the minute I could hold ‘em. Our house was always knee deep in projects whether paintings, ceramics, sewing, embroidering, and drawing. He had a drafting studio in our house for when he took work home and I have many fond memories, sitting in my own drafting chair watching and ‘working’ alongside him. No coloring books or erasers were allowed. I started using technical ink pens early on. Many, many sketchbooks. We didn’t watch TV much.”
I asked Wendy when she first discovered metal clay. “I think I first heard of metal clay when Ornament magazine published a few articles on it. I was so excited. I had done some casting before that and quickly realized I work better adding and sculpting (ceramics background) than subtracting and carving wax forms. Metal clay seemed to promise that potential. It looked like alchemy to me. I think the first thing I made was a ring in a class with Celie Fago. And some very heavy charms (not hollow).”
Wendy’s work uses different media and combines skill in many other processes beyond her metal clay mastery. “I use a lot of other techniques,” she said. “I use traditional fabrication, patina techniques, make my own findings, lots of cold connections e.g. rivets, etc. I also like to create hollow forms of the metal clay and fill in with polymer clay, resin, found objects, and gems.”
The natural themes which are in evidence in Wendy’s Saul Bell winning piece and also her more recent piece which was a finalist in the 2017 Saul Bell Award are important to her. I asked her to describe her style. “When I had my solo show at RAM, the theme was using inorganic materials to depict organic themes. The curator described my work as my personal surrealism. I like nature themes with a bit of a tweak to them. My husband says some of my pieces have to remain in my studio; they ‘frighten’ him.” Now that piques my interest!
She cites her influences as “My father and his artist colleagues. Picasso, Miro, Bosch, Klee, Oldenburg, Matisse, Ryden. In metal clay and polymer: Voulkos, Kovalcik, Fago, McCreight, Becker Simon, Blackford, Uyehara, I’m sure I’m forgetting too many! I’d say Bosch and Klee are key influences, maybe. Many artists that used nature as themes.”
She went on, “My necklace ‘Seed Beads’ was based on nature and then I used gemstones as the seeds. A lot of my work involves polymer infill with the metal clay sculpted to form and frame. The Thorn Bird I did recently and the bee are also examples of hollow metal forms that frame tiny sculptures within.
Wendy’s pieces are so complex and technically challenging, I asked her about her design process. “I sometimes make some chicken scratches. You would never know I’m an illustrator!” she laughed. “But usually I change almost everything about the sketches. I’ve entered the Saul Bell Design Award competition a few times and always do a rendering instead of a photo. The difficult thing for me is if I’m chosen as a finalist I have to stick to my design… no changes allowed!”
“’Song and Eggs’ is a necklace that won first place in the Saul Bell Design Award competition in metal clay. It meant a lot to win that year since it was in its tenth year anniversary. I had also won the first year the SBDA began its metal clay category. The rendering took about an hour, but to produce it was a whole other challenge!! I tend to draw designs without really thinking how I’m gonna produce it sometimes! I needed to figure out how to fire enamel on spherical (bird head) forms AND on fine silver. And, I wanted the components to look hand painted so I used the enamels in paint form. It was a steep learning curve for me, and lots of panic, but I persevered (with a lot of help from Thompson Enamel who said at the beginning, “you’re doing WHAT?”)”
I asked Wendy if she teaches. “I teach occasionally. I co-taught a mixed media class with Sherri Haab where we had students make charms of metal clay and then showed them many ways to color and add to the metal like polymer, resin, patina, colored pencils. I also did a color with metal class in a traditional metal studio that was six weeks long. I loved those classes, but I have to say I love teaching children… always learn from them!”
Wendy sells her work in various places. “I haven’t been very good at getting my metal clay work out. I have been in a few shows with Mobilia Gallery (metal clay and other work as well). I have sold when I teach. I also have a holiday studio show where I usually do pretty well. I have also had a few pieces in different shows at Allegory Gallery. I also sell some on Etsy.”
With such a diverse and interesting body of work behind her, I asked Wendy what she wants to achieve in the future. “I would like to keep exploring metal clay and its continuously evolving formula’s. I’m very behind on that. I also want to keep going with the narrative side of my work.”
Julia Rai is an award winning artist, teacher and writer well known in the international metal clay community. Her work has featured in a wide range of publications and she writes regularly for print magazines and online. She teaches in her home studio in Cornwall and travels to teach by invitation.