People are the heart of the project

Some impressions from the opening events from guest writer Rise Nagin.

20171110_183537Visitors to East Liberty’s Spinning Plate Gallery this month will encounter a whimsical environment filled with thousands of polymer clay sculptures depicting various woodland creatures and plants. Over 300 artists participated in the creation of the installation in which a riotous mix of colors, texture and details elicit surprise and delight.

“People are the heart of the endeavor, which started out as an art installation but changed into a community project,” said Pittsburgh artist Laura Tabakman, one of three artists/organizers whose vision is on display through December 3, 2017.

The two-year collaboration began in 2015 at a polymer clay conference where Laura and Emily Squires Levine decided to collaborate. Inspired by the movement of aspen leaves in the wind, they devised the idea of creating a polymer clay forest installation and began looking for gallery spaces. In 2016 their first collaborative installation was shown in Philadelphia, after which the third collaborator, Julie Eakes joined the project.

The artists determined that in order to fill the Spinning Plate they would need more work than they could produce alone; and taking inspiration from large scale projects that involve many artists such as “Knit the Bridge” and “FIMO 50” they posted an internet “call for entries” to the international community of polymer clay artists, requesting pieces of the forest.

Social media became an open forum in which participating artists discussed the project, exchanging ideas on flora and fauna, seasons, color. In the end, artists from 37 states and 27 countries sent work to be part of the installation. During the last two weeks of October, 29 Pittsburgh artists, many from the Fiberarts Guild and the Polymer Clay Guild, volunteered to install the forest under the direction of Laura and Emily. The entire process is documented on Facebook.

A number of participating artists visited Pittsburgh for the opening reception and a conference on Polymer Clay and Contemporary Art the next day. The sense of comradery among attendees was evident. Chicago curator, Brigitte Martin, was the keynote speaker. Martin spoke of the expressive possibilities presented by polymer clay and of the role art can play in building community and generating social responsibility.

Martin’s points are well illustrated by “Into the Forest”. The project demonstrates a sophisticated use of polymer clay and fostered a dedicated community of artists who extended their support and shared their process with one another. The result of this joint effort is an art environment that embraces viewers and evokes joy.

Where:   Spinning Plate Gallery, 5821 Baum Boulevard, Pittsburgh, PA 15206
Dates:    Opening – November 10 – December 3, 2017
Hours:  Thursday through Saturday: 2 pm – 7 pm, Sunday 1 pm – 5 pm or by appointment (contact us at to arrange visit)
Closed Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving weekend
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