It's been in the works for four years, and soon, it will be here. Courting the Muse, the National Polymer Clay Guild's international conference, is coming to Bryn Mawr College, near Philadelphia, PA, June 10-17, 2001.

While many people have been eagerly awaiting "the Muse" to meet with their friends and focus on clay for an entire week, Maggie Maggio, chair of the conference, hopes the attendees will get more than social time and some neat techniques out of the conference.

"We've designed the conference with some specific reasons in mind," says Maggio. "The idea is for people to come for the week and settle in. There won't be a lot of moving around; there will be a lot of focus."

Using focus and continuity as the two central tenets of the conference, the coordinators have created a program that revolves around three primary concepts: creativity, synthesis, and basic technique.

While each day will feature state-of-the-art polymer technique workshops, there will also be a creativity seminar, two or three basic techniques workshops, and an evening lecture, all outside of regular workshop time.

Every morning will feature a creativity warm-up session led by a creativity expert. These sessions will help prepare conference attendees for their day.

During the day, basics workshops will be offered by some of the faculty. They will teach introductory class workshops so that anyone who hasn't picked up or hasn't tried a technique has a chance to learn core techniques, such as imitative techniques, caning, transfers, Mokume Gane, and sculpting. There will also be introductory workshops in lampworking and precious metal clay (PMC).

Every evening will feature a lecture devoted to some aspect of creativity. The hour-long lectures will begin on Monday night with Steven Ford and David Forlano, who will talk about collaborative creativity and show slides of their work. As an added bonus, the two will have a trunk sale before their talk.

On Tuesday night, Dr. Robert K. Liu, co-editor of Ornament magazine, will speak on originality and creativity. He will give a slide presentation on the history of "borrowing" from other artists and discuss how copying other people's work can be part of the process of learning and inspiration. After his lecture, there will be a panel discussion about the issue of creating original work and how one defines original work.

Wednesday night will feature Joyce C. Scott, an internationally known bead artist, lecturer, educator, visual and performance artist, and social activist who, through her primary medium of beads, uses her work to promote social commentary.

On Thursday, Kathleen Dustin will kick off the third primary concept of the conference: synthesis. "People usually go to a conference and are overflowing with new ideas," says Maggio, "but they leave and get home and can't use all the stuff they've learned."

"The synthesis session are designed for you to spend a couple of days at the conference working on the techniques you've been learning."

Dustin's lecture on rules of group critique will officially kick off the synthesis segment of the conference. On Friday and Saturday, ten teams of two faculty members will meet with attendees to focus on finishing one project. " All the synthesis sessions are built around a challenge that encourages each attendee to finish a project just for him or herself, using new techniques," says Maggio. "People will spend a couple of days working on a wearable piece for the Grand Fete and Masquerade on Saturday night."

It is at this fete that the final speaker, Tory Hughes, will deliver a lecture on "Dancing with the Muse." Hughes will be discussing the creative process and offering suggestions and exercises for "dancing on the river of energy."

Maggio says the conference coordinators, in an effort to create focus and continuity, have designed the conference "so that every day will flow in pretty much the same way: get up, go to creativity sessions, go to class, lunch, class again, dinner, the lecture, then have open time."

There will also be movement options in the morning -- exercises to wake up the body and the mind, and, says Maggio, in the evening, there will be a "midsummer's night romp". People will gather in the courtyard, but Maggio was disinclined to give more details. "It's a surprise," she said. "We aren't saying anything more than that."

Bryn Mawr is the right campus to inspire creativity; according to Maggio, "The gothic campus is perfectly suited to the theme."

The conference has access to a gothic hall, which will be open in the evenings as workspace. The convection ovens for curing projects will be located in the courtyard.

Conference attendees will staying in two of the older dorms, and eat in the dining hall in one of the dorms, which, according to Maggio, has "fantastic architecture." Lest anyone worry they will be served the same food they received in college, Maggio says the food will be excellent. The campus food service is even going to create a Greek feast for the final dinner, to honor the Greek muses.

If all of this sounds wonderful, and you are sorely disappointed you can't spend a week away from your daily life, don't despair! There are other options.

The NPCG will be running a store where they will sell supplies and items they take on consignment. It's possible to consign items even if you aren't attending the conference.

Additionally, there will be an historical retrospective of the last two decades of polymer clay work. The exhibit pieces have been collected to show the historical progression of polymer clay as an art form, and since a lot of the pieces are from private collections, this exhibit is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see many of these works.

Also, says Maggio, if you are in the area, it's a good idea to come for the day to visit. You can't take workshops, but you can visit the store and exhibit and attend the evening lectures. "All the optional programs are open to the public," says Maggio.

Finally, on Friday night there will be an auction, open to the public, to which anyone can donate. Faculty will be donating, according to Maggio, and the money made from the auction will cover conference expenses.

If you can get away for the weekend, Maggio mentioned the option of taking the synthesis session on its own. For $375.00, people can attend the Thursday night lecture, Friday and Saturday's synthesis sessions, and Saturday night's fete.

Maggio said they were expecting between 150-200 people to be on campus for the week, including all faculty and staff.

The conference's catalog with all the class descriptions can be found at the National Polymer Clay Guild's website:


Maggie Maggio, Conference Chair (one year)

Shelly Crossen: registration and administration chair

Nan Roche: program and site chair

Elise Swope: past Chair (three years)


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