How it all began

Adapted from an interview with Laura Tabakman, Julie Eakes and Emily Squires Levine, originally printed in International Polymer Clay, the official publication of the International Polymer Clay Association, May-June 2017.

Into the Forest- Colorado
Aspen Trees, Colorado

It began when Laura Tabakman suggested to Emily Squires Levine and Julie Eakes that they “go big!”.  Their original inspiration from a Colorado aspen forest was now a large-scale installation open to international polymer clay artists. This is their story. The artist response to populate the installation has been absolutely amazing – and – you’ll get to view a portion of it at the IPCA’s Synergy4 conference this August!

• How did this concept come about? Who originally thought of it – or was it a simultaneous idea among the three of you? How did the three of you come together?

While at a retreat in Colorado in 2015, Emily and Laura decided to do a collaboration based on the aspen trees which were abundant in the area. The collaboration consisted of translucent leaves, attached to a small branch with thin wires which bobbed up and down with movement.

ItF- FirstCollaboration-20160705_225446lwrs
Into the Forest: First Collaboration

It was at this point that Laura suggested we go “bigger” and convey our full experience in the Forest. This led to Emily and Laura’s “Into the Forest: Early Growth” installation in Philadelphia last September-December 2016.

Into the Forest - Installation in Philadelphia
Into the Forest: Early growth

Then Laura suggested we go “bigger” yet again which led to the present worldwide collaboration. When we decided to go bigger, we thought we needed another creative brain, so we asked Julie to join us. We were inspired to make this a collaborative installation by the positive response of the worldwide polymer community to the FIMO® 50 tile project. Also, the Crochet Coral Reef project inspired us to think about combining individual elements to form colonies. Lastly, Laura is no stranger to large-scale installations, having helped coordinate the “Knit The Bridge” project with Pittsburgh’s Fiberarts Guild in 2013, involving almost 2000 knitters, knitting 600 handmade panels and 116,688 square feet of hand knit, crochet, and woven materials to cover the Warhol Bridge in Pittsburgh.

• Is there any more detail you can give about the concept of this installation and its purpose?

Our goal is that the flora and fauna that inhabit the participants’ parts of the world will inspire their contributions, just as the aspens inspired us. From what we hope will be thousands of elements created and contributed by our vast worldwide community, we look forward to creating a lush installation, generating a global coming together of the polymer clay community, while sharing each other’s forests impressions. Through Facebook, Instagram and other social media outlets, direct contact with local guilds and friendships across the world, we have reached out to our global community to contribute to our project.

From the postings, we see that people are being inspired by the participation of others and are pushing their creativity into new directions. We currently have over 1100 members on our Facebook Group, and there is always lots of buzz when a new piece of work gets posted. Guilds are devoting clay days to creating elements, retreats are encouraging their participants to be a part of our Forest, Cynthia Tinapple has worked with the women at the Ohio Reformatory for Women to create a butterfly bush and polymer clay artists and enthusiasts abroad are encouraging each other to participate and come together to ship their pieces in bulk. We are overwhelmed and incredibly thankful with the response so far. To date, we have received elements from over 120 people, representing 25 states and 17 countries and we are still about three weeks from the deadline. [Since this article was published, we have received elements from over 250 people, from 32 states and 22 countries.]

Cynthia Tinapple and OFW
Cynthia Tinapple and Ohio Reformatory for Women

• What went into the background of this project? How did you determine a budget for the installation which would include packing, shipping, lease space for exhibiting?

The first iteration, “Into the Forest: Early Growth” was on display at the gallery at Park Towne Apartments, a mid-century historically certified apartment complex in the Museum District of the Philadelphia last Fall. Park Towne Apartments and InLiquid, a Philadelphia based arts organization and curator of the art space and collection at the Apartments, helped us by defraying some of the cost for our materials for that exhibition. We have budgeted based on our expectation of the financial needs for this installation only. Cost items include the installation and support materials, PR and storage materials, opening weekend party and forum including keynote speaker, gallery insurance and storage once the installation comes down. Luckily, there is no leasing expense for this gallery. It is of great help that our contributors are paying their shipping costs themselves. Future installations of the project will require additional fundraising.

• I’m sure you had to solicit sponsors. How did you go about this? Was it primarily through digital promotion or did you have to pitch your concepts in person? Are your sponsorships private or corporate or both? (Most artists do not have any idea what it takes to put something like this together. Your insights will be both excellent and informative reading.)

First of all, we cannot thank enough the support and generosity of Polyform who have graciously been contributing substantial amounts of clay for our project. Thank you Polyform! In addition, we are in the process of pursuing many fundraising avenues, including corporate sponsorship, grant opportunities, digital fundraising, an online auction, support from local guilds across the country and the sale of Into the Forest pins. For example, the New Jersey Clayathon retreat recently made a donation in addition to allowing us to raffle off some of our own work at their auction. Lastly, Laura’s experience with “Knit the Bridge”, a Pittsburgh based installation in 2013, has been invaluable in providing logistical insights.

• What were some of the logistics that you had to consider with a project of this size? How were you going to handle deliveries and storage?

As we are located in three separate US cities (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Charlotte), we get together weekly on Google Hangout. During these conferences, we cover all aspects of the installation on an ongoing basis.

Julie hangout
Video call with Julie, Emily and Laura

At the current time, all elements are being mailed to Laura in Pittsburgh (with the kind support of her husband Danny as our Forest continues to grow).

Laura's living room!
Laura’s living room!

In addition to our video chats, we have been traveling to each other’s homes (each on our own dimes), with the anticipation of meeting a total of 8 times before this November’s opening. Plans are now for Emily and Julie to take up residence in Laura’s house at the end of October until the opening to assemble the elements into the Forest. Currently, some of the sections of last fall’s Philadelphia installation (including trees) are being housed in Philadelphia. These trees, together with some samples of the work contributed from the greater community, will be on display during Synergy4 in King of Prussia, PA. After the closing of the November Pittsburgh installation, we will need to locate storage space, as Laura’s house will not be able to accommodate it all.

• Do you have volunteers for the assembly of the installation and if you do, how did you go about selecting them?

We are hoping to draw on the local Pittsburgh community for assistance. To date, members of the Pittsburgh Polymer Clay Guild have graciously offered to help with the installation. Also, Laura’s friends from the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh will be assisting.

• You’ve received so much material representing many distinct types of flora and forest life. Do you have a formula for arranging all of the materials into a cohesive installation? I imagine that is where the true magic will happen!

You are correct! The magic will happen when the three of us get together at various times leading up to the November opening. We will let the work guide us, and we will know better once we receive everything. But for now, we are sharing ideas and images of inspiration we find all around us.

• What is your exhibit schedule? Where is the installation going to be shown? Other than Synergy4, will the installation be traveling to any other destination? Were you thinking of contacting regional museums to see if they would carry the installation?

The exhibition takes place from November 10 to December 3, 2017 at the Spinning Plate in Pittsburgh. The opening weekend is November 10 – 11; Friday, November 10 will be a big party; Saturday, November 11, a more formal program with presentations and conversations is being planned. The installation will be on display throughout the month of November. We are exploring other venues for the future, but it is too early to say. Into the Forest is filled with “living” things. We expect that the installation will be alive as well, adapting itself to future sites and future environments.

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