Nancy is the artist behind Captivating Clay Creations, which is celebrating their 7th colorful year at Ithaca Farmers’ Market. When you see her at her booth, she is likely to be creating a new piece of jewelry during any free time. She is also likely to be answering questions from curious market shoppers. The most common question she is asked at market is: “Did you paint it?”
With the patience of a person who has been teaching for many years (which she has), Nancy explains that her Captivating Clay Creations are not, in fact, painted. The intricate designs are formed through a process called millefiori, a glassworking technique which has existed since ancient Roman times. The Italian word millefiori, which means “a thousand flowers,” refers to the flower patterns which are common in this art form. The basic premise of millefiori is at a long, cylindrical “cane” of the desired pattern is built and rolled out (like making worms out of clay), and then tiny slices are cut off, with a beautiful, tiny pattern visible only in the cross section. Nancy likens the process of working with this technique to making paper snowflakes, where you don’t know exactly how the finished product is going to look until you unfold it.
Nancy came to Ithaca from Ann Arbor, MI, in 1992. She was working as a teacher and started doing an arts and crafts class with one of her colleagues, which is how she discovered her interest (she may have referred to it as an “obsession”) in working with clay. The type of clay she works with is polymer clay, which is sold under the brand names of “Sculpey” and “Premo.” It comes in a rainbow of colors, is non-toxic, and can be worked at room temperature, all of which make it a great medium to work with. Nancy gets a lot of inspiration from other forms of art, such as paintings and textiles. Her designs all start with colors, and the color combinations inform the way the pieces eventually take shape.
Captivating Clay Creations have made their way all around the world, as tourists and students from all over visit the Ithaca Farmers Market and bring jewelry and other beguiling local crafts. The acorns are a popular item, as they combine a symbol of our region’s natural surroundings with the creativity of our craftspeople!
Nancy also creates custom orders, such as barrettes in different sizes, specific clay animals, and once, a polymer nativity scene! Visit Nancy and check out Captivating Clay Creations at Steamboat Landing on Saturday or Sunday, or at East Hill Plaza on Wednesday from 4 to 7. She will probably have a few new creations on hand, and will be happy to answer any questions as you admire her work. Hopefully, after reading this, you won’t need to ask her if she painted all the the designs with a tiny paintbrush, but if you do, that’s OK too!