January 1, 2020

Colorful Clay Art at Hunterdon Museum

“MAGICAL COPSE”: This polymer clay work by Emily Squires Levine is featured in “Embracing Color/Polymer Clay,” her solo exhibit on view at the Hunterdon Art Museum January 12 through March 1. An opening reception with an artist talk is January 12, 2 to 4 p.m. (Photo by John Carlano)

Artist Emily Squires Levine says that small colorful boxes and bowls have attracted her for as long as she can remember.

One of her first memories is of a colorfully embroidered fabric oval box, a gift from an aunt who traveled to the shores of the Algarve in Portugal. She has kept this memento her entire life. Other recollections include a mother-of-pearl box and a small bowl from Turkey which held tiny seashells.

This lifelong love for colorful vessels has deeply influenced her art. Levine works with polymer clay, creating bowls, vases, and other items that entice the eye with their vibrant colors and diverse patterns.

Levine’s pieces can be explored in a solo exhibition, “Embracing Color/Polymer Clay,” which opens at the Hunterdon Art Museum on January 12 with a special reception from 2 to 4 p.m., and runs to March 1. The reception is open to all and features an artist talk and refreshments.

Levine says she finds inspiration for the colors, shapes, negative spaces, and their juxtapositions from various sources including nature — ranging from the aspen trees in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, the mesas of Utah, and the colors of the Moroccan Sahara Desert — to the architectural elements of city buildings, or favorite artists including Friedensreich Hundertwasser and Spanish painter and sculptor Joan Miró.

Hundertwasser’s influence is of particular note. While in college, Levine hung a poster of Hundertwasser’s The Beard is the Grass of the Bald Headed Man on her dorm wall, attracted to the artist’s technique of juxtaposing colors. Later, she began honoring the artist by incorporating grass-like motifs that evolved into tendrils in much of her work.

Levine considers herself primarily a “caner.” Based on the Italian “Millefion” glasswork technique, a cane is a polymer clay log that’s created by layering hand-mixed colors of polymer clay. Its design runs inside its entire length, much like a sushi roll. Cutting a cross section of the clay anywhere will reveal the same design on each side of the slice.

The artist juxtaposes various cane slices of contrasting colors, patterns, and complexity to help create her unique works.

Levine says she hopes those who see this exhibition will learn more about how polymer clay can be used as a medium for creating art and how versatile it is. “I hope they get that experience of the ‘a-ha’ moment, whether it’s because a viewer is sparked by the installation as a whole, particular components or arrangements, or even particular patterns or colors.”

A Philadelphia resident, Levine earned an MBA and worked in the investment advisory industry before pursuing art full time. Her pieces have been selected for the Philadelphia Museum of Art Contemporary Craft Show, the Smithsonian Craft+Design Show, and can be seen in multiple galleries. She has received numerous awards including honors from the International Polymer Clay Association and the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsman.

The Hunterdon Art Museum is at 7 Lower Center Street in Clinton. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 pm. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and students; children under 12 are free. For more information, call (908) 735-8415 or visit www.hunterdonartmuseum.org.