Polymer Clay Has Found Its NICHE

NICHE Magazine Announces 2008 NICHE Awards Finalists

NICHE magazine, the exclusive trade publication for retailers of American craft, has announced the finalists for the 2008 NICHE Awards.  Jurors selected 151 finalists out of more than 1,100 entries in 36 categories. The NICHE Awards program recognizes the outstanding creative achievements of American and Canadian craft artists who produce work for craft galleries and retail stores. Judging is based on three main criteria: technical excellence, both in surface design and form; market viability; and a distinct quality of unique, original and creative thought. Winners will be revealed at a ceremony on February 17, 2008, at the Philadelphia Buyers Market of American Craft, the nation's largest wholesale craft show, as well as featured in the Winter 2008 issue of NICHE magazine.

It is exciting to note that this is the first year a Polymer Clay category has been added. According to Melissa Becker, Communications Coordinator for the Rosen Group, the addition of the medium is due to its increasing popularity among artists. 

POLYinforMER contacted each of the five finalists in the Polymer Clay category and is pleased to share with you their comments and advice.  After reading their comments, be sure to pop over to the AmericanCraft site to see each of the entries.  Congratulations to each of these very talented artists!


Lindly Haunani  "Asparagus Crown" 

"Follow the advice of my mentor/coach Elise Winters. Make several pieces that you love, are representative of your work  and that are designed to be photographed. Have a professional photographer take the pictures, as slides and digital images. Learn how to format the images for online submissions. When opportunities appear, apply - the worst thing that can happen is that you are rejected."

Elise Winters  "Autumn Cinch Bracelet" 

"One of my missions since 1996 has been to raise awareness about polymer clay in the broader commuity of fine craft. I have submitted images to the Niche awards a number of times in the past in order to give the medium exposure among jurors, other craft artists and traditional jewelry artist in particular.  Until this year, Niche did not have a polymer category, and so I submitted in the fashion jewelry category and the sculpture to wear category.  I was a finalist on 2 occasions and an award winner on another.  The great benefit was exposure.  Finalists have an opportuity to exhibit at the Buyers Market, the finalist images are shown at the awards ceremenonies and also published in many of the Rosen periodicals." 

Loretta Lam  "Deep Shade" 

"I see entering competitions as having many benefits. It helps stretch your boundaries artistically - if there is a theme or special requirements for entering. It can help you get organized - because of deadlines and photo requirements. It helps build name recognition and your work reaches a wider audience. This last one is something I'm working on right now. I've had my polymer clay business since 2000 - I've been growing it slowly and steadily. But I'm going to start doing the big wholesale shows in 2008, so reaching a wider audience is part of my plan.

Wholesale shows are very expensive and therefore risky. You have a lot more on the line and you may not see a quick return on your investment. The NICHE Competition is a very prestigious one in the fine craft world. As well as being an award that is focused toward the business side of craft, finalists and winners receive a lot of publicity and status - which is hard to quantify but it's kind of "the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval". So I feel very grateful and lucky to be a finalist, especially in such fabulous company.

I was a very competitive kid. I had to be the president of clubs and organizations, hold a powerful position, get the most ribbons at the fair. By my 20's the whole thing had left a bad taste in my mouth and I swung to the opposite direction. I would turn down all offers to lead any group I was part of and shunned all competitions. But now I've reframed it. It's more about doing your best - often better than you thought you could. It's creative problem solving and pushing out of your comfort zone. It doesn't have to be ugly...it can be a very positive thing."  

"Mica Pendant"  Meisha Barbee 

"I decided to enter the Niche competition at the urging of my brother Steven Maddy, who is also a Niche finalist; In fact he was a finalist each of the 4 times he entered. Just before the Niche awards entry deadline, I decided to have some professional photos taken of my work. This was the first time I'd had professional photos taken...I guess it paid off. This is also the first time I had entered any competition with my Polymer Clay. Another reason I had photos taken is to apply for the NPCG "ACRES OF OPPORTUNITY" for a chance to start selling my work in the wholesale market.

I'm not sure how being a Niche Finalist will benefit me, except to give my work some exposure. I mainly show and sell my work at studio 41 in Spanish Village in San Diego; so unless people visit my studio, chances are they will not see my work. I decided it is finally time to get photos of my work out there.

One word of advice is to make what you love. I love working with polymer clay, because it allows such creativity. It never gets tedious or boring, because the clay keeps pulling me in new directions. My work is constantly changing and evolving, so I continue to get great pleasure in working with clay. One other word of advice is to become a member of NPCG, and your local polymer clay guild. I'm lucky to belong to San Diego Polymer Clay Guild...definitely the best thing I ever did to advance my clay skills and meet other clay artists (all great people)."

"Twigs" Merrie Buchsbaum

"I started working with polymer in 1992. I knew nothing about polymer nor the artistic world which surrounds the medium. I would encourage other polymer artists to educate themselves on what boundaries are being crossed in the polymer world but also in other mediums. Polymer is understood by diverse number of artists and can be incorporated into many different art forms. I would advise polymer artists to really look at their passions and see where their energy takes them. Polymers are truly limitless, sometimes the process of figuring out how to create something is the challenge. I am looking forward to pushing my boundaries as I make larger sculptural pieces."