ELISE WINTERS 1948 - 2019
Many in the polymer world are makers and teachers, deriving both intense personal satisfaction while practicing their art and passing on this knowledge to others, like Elise Winters and the late Tory Hughes. Winters’ first Masters was in ceramics, when she worked with light patterns in translucent porcelain, giving her the ability to teach ceramics. Her second Masters was in media studies, a photographic study of sunrises over Manhattan, which lead her to also teach photography. Polymer clay was the right material at the right time: “The color and light element, which I had a full command of through teaching photography and having studied it, got overlaid onto the malleable wonder of clay, of course, polymer clay let me do all the things that ceramic clay did, in a setting which wasn’t time sensitive.”
In 2009, she said: “I have never been this happy about what I’m doing, as excited and energized and charged up.” Elise was on a trip to southern California, giving a lecture and visiting the Mingei International Museum, where she was donating a collection of polymer art, and the Ornament office. One would not have expected such enthusiasm, as she had been undergoing treatment for cancer, including chemotherapy, the effects of which disrupted her ability to multitask. Therefore she capably re-arranged her studio into four different areas, including polymer, metal (she integrated her metal skills with her polymer), color mixing/color charts (to tune her eyes) and notetaking, so that she could isolate each type of work.
This task was very much in keeping with her ability to innovate, both in polymer and in metal. Having grown up in a family with a metalsmithing business, Elise was nurtured in designing and engineering by her father.
She also had a strong research interest, doing extensive testing of adhesives and glues, to better improve her own necklace attachments. While Elise became one of the stellar artists of polymer late in her career, after twenty-seven years of teaching art in public elementary and high schools, she was always interested in light, color, reflectivity, and translucence, as well as natural forms, all of which were reflected in her stunning polymer jewelry. Polymer artists like her have brought so many important qualities to jewelry—volume and size without the penalty of weight, incredible color, visual effects like translucency and shapes previously not easily possible, as well as a worldwide movement and community of artists that spread and collaborated in a manner faster than any other craft medium. In 2008, Winters started the Polymer Art Archive, an online site set up as a blog, to document the history of polymer, an important aspect of any craft medium.
Always generously acknowledging the influence of other artists on herself, she garnered acclaim for her own work, with six museums holding her jewelry in their permanent collections: the Racine Art Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Newark Museum, Museum of Arts and Design, the Mingei International Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Elise was a strong believer in commitment, perseverance and following your passion, rather then depending on talent alone. We will miss her sharp, penetrating vision of the medium in which she excelled and her personal embrace of the infinite possibilities that creating can inspire in each of us. In Elise’s universe there was no room for fear.
See Ornament Vol. 26, No. 2, 2002/03: “Artist Statement: Elise Winters;” Vol. 32, No. 3, 2009: “Elise Winters: The Essential Lightness of Being” by Jill DeDominicis; Vol. 34, No. 4, 2011: “Polymer Clay. A Modern Medium Comes of Age” by Jill DeDominicis.