Today I’d like to introduce you to my mother, polymer clay artist Karen Sexton. We sat down during my recent visit and I asked her a few questions about her lifelong passion for art, color and design. The photos in this post are of her recent creations.
Sus: What is your earliest creative memory?
Karen: A school project in second grade – the teacher was doing a unit on the circus, and we were allowed to use coping saws to cut our design out of wood. I made a clown, painted apple green with red polka dots. My clown was featured at the front of the class display. I also remember loving the art teacher’s rolling cart of paint jars in every color. My painting of an Indian village scene was put up in the main hallway of my elementary school.
S: You were an excellent school teacher all your working life. Did you ever consider another career?
K: I wanted to be a fashion designer! However, in Des Moines Iowa in the 1930’s and 40’s that idea got no support from anyone. I cut the Jane Arden paper dolls out of the newspaper, glued them to cardboard recycled from hosiery packaging, and designed for them. Right around that time, the movie ‘Gone with the Wind’ came out and I was taken to the theater to see it on a trip downtown. Before the movie, I got to buy a large tin of watercolors and could hardly concentrate on the movie in my excitement to get home and use those paints for my fashion designs. My dad worked for Yonkers department store. He brought me home a small mannequin doll about 12” tall. I begged my mother to buy fabric, and taught myself to sew on my Grandmother’s treadle sewing machine, immediately sewing my finger during my first session!
S: So art has always been a passion…
K: Yes. Teaching, nursing, and secretarial careers were the only choices for women in those days, and primary teaching was a natural outlet for my creative drive.
S: You work in series. Talk a bit about your studio practice.
K: Messing around with no preconception, asking ‘what would happen if…’ is the way I usually get going. I like to take a technique learned from another polymer clay artist and branch out from there, push it into a new place. Lately I have been working with alcohol inks, texturing the clay with denim, and piecing the colors together.
S: Who and what are your artistic inspirations?
K: I admire Tory Hughes, who has expanded her interests beyond polymer clay into creativity studies. Laurie Mika’s use of surface treatment inspires me, and I am interested in Loretta Lam’s work. There are so many fine polymer clay artists out there being featured on web sites and newsletters. I also find that the medium itself is a muse. I keep an inspiration journal with color and idea starters as well as a sketchbook journal. Process is more important to me than product, and I feel lucky that no one has put pressure on me to sell my work in order to justify it.
Thanks, Mother - you are an inspiration to me!