A 'living, growing' art

Last year Kathy Sulecki Fiete '83 spent 1,553 hours making a horse.

With the help of her family, friends and members of the Western New York Polymer Clay Guild, Fiete transformed a life-size fiberglass horse for Rochester NY's Horses on Parade. "Our 'Well-Seasoned Horse' depicted the four seasons in Rochester: winter snow, spring lilacs, fall maple leaves and summer flowers," says Fiete. "Each piece on it was handmade from polymer clay and glued on."

Rochester's Horses on Parade is a spin-off of CowParade, the international charitable movement that claims to be the world's largest public art event. Zurich, Switzerland, hosted the original CowParade in 1998. Chicago and New York had CowParades in 1999, Kansas City and Houston followed suit in 2001, and London will host a CowParade in 2002. In 2001 buffaloes paraded through Buffalo and pigs through Cincinnati during that city's Big Pig Gig.

According to, each city's artists are challenged by the art from past events, inspired by the cultural influences of their respective cities, and moved by their own interpretation of the chosen animal as an art object. The "parades" ultimately benefit participating charities. Artists submit designs and if chosen by a sponsor, they create their fiberglass animal. After several months on display, it is auctioned. Fiete reports that Horses on Parade raised more than $ 1,000,000 for five charities, thanks to the sale of about 160 horses.

"I'm very impressed with the public street art phenomenon," Fiete says. "It has raised millions of dollars for charities, brought people into downtown areas they haven't been to in years, improved tourism, and even increased film and film development sales, because everyone takes pictures. It is not uncommon to map out a route on a nice summer afternoon, only to find you're following several other groups of people out doing the same thing! It's a wonderful concept."

Fiete and her sister, Joan Sulecki '81, grew up in a family in which everyone had a craft project in progress; their mother was a painter and print-maker and did embroidery. Her mother and sister are award-winning lace-makers and all three artists have taught classes in different art mediums over the years. Fiete says that polymer clay, invented in the 1940s, is a medium in its infancy compared to needlework, ceramics and painting, which are literally as old as dirt. The techniques, tools and clay itself evolve daily due to a growing number of artists who work with it and share their knowledge. "It is very exciting to be part of a living, growing art form. You can study Michelangelo's and Da Vinci's works, but you can't ask them what kind of brush or chisel they used. In polymer clay you can ask most of the artists just how they came up with their ideas and techniques." Many polymer clay masters attended the National Polymer Clay Guild's conference held last June on the Bryn Mawr campus.

The growth in interest in polymer clay comes largely from the online groups dedicated to the medium, says Fiete: "Now books on the subject are being published regularly, but for several years everything I knew Ihad learned from the internet."

Fiete holds a master's in anthropology and museum studies from the University of Arizona and majored in anthropology at Bryn Mawr. She points out several links between her formal education and her work with polymer clay. "Anthropology influences the way I think about things," says Fiete. "An archaeologist I knew once showed me a bucket of stone tools he'd found. He picked up a scraper and said, 'Hold this. You can tell the person who used it was left handed.' He was right; the stone was chipped so that it could be effectively used in the left hand, but was awkward in the right. I have a box of dental blades that I use to cut my clay, but they must be mounted into a clay handle first. Whenever I make a new handle for myself I mold the clay to conform to my own grip, and I insist other people do the same when I give them a blade ... all because of that scraper. My gift to future archaeologists, I guess!"

Fiete's next gift to us all is "Deerheart," one of 50 fiberglass deer to be displayed this summer within the Finger Lake region of New York, as part of a scholarship fundraiser for Finger Lake Community College.

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