The daughter of artists, Pier studied ceramics at the California College of Arts and Crafts and dabbled in every craft they had to offer. "I was an only child," says Pier, "and spent a lot of time making things and drawing. Playing with materials and making stuff was a very natural part of my life."
What attracted Pier to Fimo? She was teaching children at her mother's art school in the Oakland, California area, and was always on the lookout for new things for them to do. So the polymer clay in the toy store she entered during a trip to Germany caught her eye. She gave some of the clay to her boss in the craft room, who in turn made beads, as beads were the hot items to make in those days.
Pier soon took this "children's toy" in new directions. In 1977 she entered beads in an art show in Richmond, California.
Much of Pier's innovative creativity is probably due in part to her parents, who Pier says are strong supporters of her art. She says, "My parents are totally supportive of what I do. Part of the reason I started working with the polymer clay is that I made beads as presents for my mom."
Although Pier was playing with polymer clay, she also did her own painting and graphics and pursued her love of dance.
While pursuing a dance career in New York City during the 1980s, Pier started selling her work and further explored the use of the polymer clay. One of her neckpieces was featured in the New York Times, and she began to show her work at galleries. As various people bought her necklaces, those pieces began to migrate over the US.
Although Pier started using telephone wire in her jewelry in 1984, it wasn't until 1989 that she discovered that it could be baked into clay. When I asked her about that discovery and her use of telephone wire, she replied, "Lots of people use telephone wire. I first played with it as a child making bugs and jewelry. It was a common recyclable material used in children's craft projects. It is a perfect compliment to the colorful clay."
Discovering the bonding properties opened up the world of making jewelry for Pier. "I could now make earrings without having to glue each and every wire into the clay." The whole polymer clay community is grateful for that addition to our arsenal.
In his book Five Artists-Five Directions, Jamey Allen reports that as polymer clay became an accepted art material, it was Pier who was a prime mover in instigating this change. It is interesting to note that the Los Angeles Times published an article in July of this year on Peter Voulkos, Pier's father, focusing on his work as a ceramist and wondering where the next generation of ceramists was to come from. I wrote a letter to the editor explaining that his daughter was leading artists in a new direction: polymer clay.
Pier is known for her colorful canes and resulting necklaces and earrings. But she also explored sculptural forms using foil or air as armatures. In 1996, she was featured as an artist in Ornament Magazine, American Craft Magazine and Metalsmith's Exhibition in print, using these techniques.
As she began to be accepted into galleries, Pier was encouraged to do more sculptural pieces such as frames and wall hangings. At first, she used this concept to make frames to house her jewelry, but eventually she began to make pieces with a more architectural quality. This would come in handy as she progressed to her next innovation.
Pier's discovery of the amazing properties of metallic clay began in 1997 with Premo metallic gold. Invisible canes using the mica shift (the ability of the clay to align the mica bits for a metallic sheen in one plane and a dull surface in another) form the basis of the work she and Dan Peters do with boxes and furniture.
"Dan Peters and I have been together for about 20 years", Pier tells me. "Dan was invited to the original Arrowmont conference as one of the masters of other media. He is a furniture maker so I helped him prepare polymer clay to use in the wood shop."
Dan approached the clay as an already hard baked material that could be machined on the lathe, table saw, drill press, band saw, etc. Dan's abilities with wood match Pier's innovative skills: "We made a small table covered in gold metallic Premo veneers for that conference. This year, in the spring, we had a furniture show at Mobila Gallery in Cambridge, Massachusetts."
Pier is a delightful person to know. I had the pleasure of meeting her this year at Ravensdale where I got to dress her up in recyclables for our opening icebreaker. The high esteem in which her work is held is evidenced by the auction at Ravensdale in which one of her necklaces went for $500.
Pier's list of inspirational artists includes Kathy Dustin, Steven Ford, David Forlano, Ruthanne and Michael Grove, Cynthia Toops, Lindly Haunani and Tory Hughes, all of whom, says Pier, "have opened my eyes to new possiblilities."
To read more about Pier Voulkos, check out the following books: