By Zenya Molnar, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Award-winning artist Sandra McCaw, who resides in Westborough, has dreamed of being an artist ever since she can remember. She is currently creating her latest Floating Leaf series of jewelry, an amorphous collection of clay leaves, while preparing to participate in the New Hampshire League of Craftsmen Fair in August and teach jewelry-making workshops in Europe in the fall.
Inventor of the McCaw Caning technique, McCaw works with polymer clay, a man-made material developed in Germany in the 1950s for doll making, to make a variety of jewelry including necklaces and earrings in various colors and forms. The technique that is named after McCaw was influenced by Michael James, a quilter from Massachusetts, who creates quilts with gradations of dyed fabric. McCaw was particularly struck by James's quilts because she is intrigued by pattern; in order to develop her own technique, she mixed colors of polymer clay, arranged them in stacks, cut them and arrived at an unexpected, yet beautiful, outcome.
Although McCaw's first interest was ceramic jewelry, she was drawn to polymer clay about 20 years ago while at a show in Amherst. She noted that the color possibilities of working with polymer captured her imagination, so she stopped making ceramic jewelry and began experimenting with the quilting pattern.
Nature directly influences McCaw's jewelry, especially the colors. For example, she explained that one set of colors was inspired by the New Hampshire woods when she walked through a pine grove in the early morning while it was snowing. Afterward, McCaw went home and mixed color arrays that combined the serenity, color of the trees, early morning light, the contrast of the snow and the deep green lake that she had experienced.
Other inspirations for colors and designs come from time spent in Italy, where McCaw encountered mosaics in churches and in Turkish tile, as she likes geometric patterns. Her travels around Europe broadened her as she met different people and encountered varying landscapes, which influenced her work as well.
“Every experience that you have in life influences your art some way or another,” McCaw said, “even if it's not obvious. Even the light [in Europe] is different.”
In addition to designing jewelry and participating in shows, McCaw leads workshops in Europe where she teaches the McCaw Caning technique and the foundations of jewelry design. Tin the fall she will be traveling to Barcelona, Lisbon, and southern France for her third year of teaching. She will lead four workshops, each two days long.
“Most workshop attendees want to go home with more than just a technique in their head,” she said, “so I show how I make the earrings on my floating leaf design.”
McCaw was a winner of the 2010 Niche Awards, a North American competition sponsored by Niche Magazine that started in 1989. The criteria for judging are “technical excellence, market viability, and a distinct quality of unique, original and creative thought.” Last year, there were 1,200 applicants and 36 winners. She was a finalist this year in the categories of fashion jewelry and polymer clay.
McCaw discussed the effect that she wants her jewelry to have on people.
“When someone wears my jewelry, I want it to make them feel good, like they'se wearing something unique and attractive. I want the viewer to be drawn to it as well.”
Currently, three pieces of McCaw's work reside in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and she also has a piece in the Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin, one of the most prominent fine crafts museums in the country.
“I have achieved my lifelong dream to have my work represented in the collection of a private museum and I am thrilled to have that realized,” McCaw explained.
Her work is also represented in several publications and appears on the cover of the book “The Art of Jewelry: Polymer Clay,” which gave McCaw worldwide recognition.
“I love my work because there is so much variety involving traveling, teaching, participating in shows, and flexibility in everyday life,” she said. “The environment, pace and interactions are all so enriching.”
To find out more about the artist and her work, visit www.sandramccaw.com.