Atelier Hughes Gallery News for April 2016

Hello my friends-

Part of the Trebizond Collection
Part of the Trebizond Collection at Atelier Hughes

You probably don’t realize how much you’ve been on my mind over the last month, since there’s been not a peep from me. Judging by what I’ve heard from you, though, many, or most, of us have been immersed in unexpected change, some of it good, some challenging, all just right for now. As they say in ‘The Best Marigold…Hotel’, “Things always work out in the end; if they haven’t worked out yet, it’s not the end!” 

Atelier Hughes sign going up- from Artman Productions
Atelier Hughes sign going up- made by Artman Productions

My news:
1. I’ve finished moving my gallery, studio and teaching studio space.
I’m officially open for business!
We’ll have special open hours for events like Friday Gallery Crawl, otherwise by appointment. Be in touch with me or Gretchen to set something up, we’d love to have you visit! Keep an eye on my blog and FB for Atelier Hughes events.

Gallery and a few mobiles, photo©Gretchen Brock
Gallery and a few mobiles, photo©Gretchen Brock

2. New address is 1437 Paseo de Peralta, downtown in the Railyard district.
Directly across from the Hotel Santa Fe. Walking distance to pretty much everything! I’ve always resisted having my own gallery but apparently resistance was futile.

Aeropostal Brooches and part of my antique stamp collection...
Aeropostal Brooches and part of my antique stamp collection…

3. I’ve hired a web-design firm here in town to set up a much more functional, inclusive, intuitive website for you and me. I like them and think they’ll do great things for us.
It’s very exciting to have others take over the website so I can immerse more into my art. Been a long time, maybe fifteen or twenty years, since I’ve had consistent time to make artmaking my priority.

Across the gallery, photo © Gretchen Brock
Across the gallery, photo © Gretchen Brock

4. New twists in my family situation require a slight reconfiguring of my workshops for this year.


Agates, Onyx and other translucent stones Tory Hughes©2014
Agates, Onyx and other translucent stones Tory Hughes©2014

>> Price change
May 14+ 15  “Look Deep! Agates, Jades, Jaspers and Translucencies”  $350 (was $450), includes all materials. A special immersive two-day workshop in going beneath and beyond the technical aspects of translucency to personalize your use of layered polymers.

Pivoting Reef Brooch Tory Hughes©2009

>> Date change for mokume workshop
September 9, 10, 11 “Autumn Glories: Mokume Gane and Infinite Patterning for Jewelry” Same price, $495 includes all materials. New processes to elaborate and develop your unique approach to this fascinating, gorgeous technique.


And a last note.
• APRIL 16, 11-5 pm SATURDAY Opening Gallery Party! •

Please come! Browse, shop, bring friends, reconnect.
It’s been a long time- I’m so happy to be back!
Feeling blessed by your presence in my life- Tory

Good Shapes

Oh such a beauty- This carved wooden ray, with her coral-spine tail, moves smoothly through the air as she would in water. Every aspect of her curving form flows with familiarity and love, shaped by flying though a denser material than air
Oh such a beauty- This carved wooden ray, with her coral-spine tail, moves as smoothly through the air as she would in water. Every aspect of her curving form flows with familiarity and love, shaped by a denser material than air. You need to hold her to appreciate how lusciously right the forms are… Marquesas Islands, bought in Papeete
Manta Brooch Tory Hughes©2011 polymer, acrylic, fabricated silver bezel 3" long
Manta Brooch  Tory Hughes©2011 polymer, acrylic, fabricated silver brooch bezel 3″ long Mokume workshop coming up in April

Surface and form… Beautiful surface effects need a shape to adorn, or they just lie there, limp, on your table. And a sensually pleasing shape is enhanced by deliberate surface, particularly if the minimalism of the surface draws attention to its form.

Neolithic Chinese jade from Liangzhu culturec/o Throckmorton
Neolithic Chinese Jade,  Liangzhu culture,  c/o Throckmorton Gallery.

Some artists relate more to surfaces, others to dimensional forms. Long ago I found myself in the latter group, and the objects I’ve collected over the years reflect my leanings. Here, a variety of forms from my collection and a few interlopers, that inspire me and insinuate their personalities into my work.

Tibetan or Nepali wooden box, early 20thC
Tibetan or Nepali wooden box, early 20thC. All the edges are slightly bowed, making this such a friendly object. About 10″ high.

Many of my favorite objects are not of Western European origin. The best explanation I can offer is that objects coming from non-Western cultures reflect a different philosophy toward their place in the world.

More of the hand of the maker, and stemming from a deeper inherent sense of integration into the physicality’s of the earth. Perhaps because I live in the US in the early 21st C, daily life surrounds me with predictable shapes, clean perpendicular edges: a cerebral aesthetic.

SeaCliff necklace, 2011, detail of central elements, roughly 2.5" x1.25"x.5" Tory Hughes©2011 polymer, acrylic, gold leaf
SeaCliff necklace, 2011, detail of central elements, roughly 2.5″ x1.25″x.5″ Tory Hughes©2011 polymer, acrylic, gold leaf. My delight for curving shapes appears as these arc in all dimensions. Incidentally, March’s Koi Pond workshop teaches these techniques. Shapes are up to you of course.

Often I want a balance, something that connects me to humans and artisans throughout time as I too bring forth color, surface pattern, forms, functions. Some of this difference comes from differing materials and processes, of course, and we’ll talk about architecture as a major source of inspirational objects in a later post.

Yet there is something palpably different, emanating from very different ideas about how to be in the world, in artifacts from other cultures.

Persian brass Dallah coffee pot for Turkish coffee
This fabulous brass and copper dallah is a traditional Turkish coffee ewer. The glorious gestures of Islamic calligraphy are echoed in its gestural swoops and sinuous lines. Language forms us in so many ways. We are malleable shapes for our culture. Worth contemplating.

This Turkish pot- would it be the same if the writing of its people had been done with chisel into stone, as the Romans did – instead of the supple fluidity of brush and ink on paper, as the Islamic alphabet?

Petit Ami air sculpture, detail Tory Hughes©2015 polymer, acrylic, metallic foils. Large red element roughly 11" across
Petit Ami air sculpture, detail Tory Hughes©2015 polymer, acrylic, metallic foils. Large red element roughly 11″ across, 4″ deep

What creates all these different mores and leanings? What was the deep cultural belief system that creates that neolithic Chinese jade above, or further on, the three-footed pot, also neolithic Chinese? Or the classic

I’m a 3d artist inhabiting a 4d world. The object-ness of my art, jargon for what shape it is and how it feels in my hand, or how it animates the room it’s in, is vital.

Vital means ‘living, alive’. The shape of things is what brings them alive. A shape that tells me the story of its maker, that sings me songs of its home, that whispers of original, now invisible realms that it still remembers…. that is a good shape. I want my shapes to do that for me first, and then for you.

SaffronGoldLeaf Brooch Tory Hughes©2007 polymer, acrylic gold leaf
SaffronGoldLeaf Brooch Tory Hughes©2007 polymer, acrylic gold leaf   Technique also from Koi Pond workshop
Imaginary Bowls Tory Hughes©2015 polymer, steel, acrylic   Tallest 8″ x 2.5″
polymer clay, wire roughly 7" x 7" Tory Hughes©1997
La Vie mobile, Tory Hughes©1997 10″ x 6″x 5″ polymer, acrylic, wire

Do you know what shapes bring your work alive, connected to your life, ground, and sky? Share in the comments .














Santa Fe Hotel News Flash+Info for Koi Pond

They are a dog-friendly hotel too. This guy is checking himself into the spa.

Hello all-
In brief, so you can jump on this if desired: the Hotel Santa Fe right across the street from our workshops is having a sale, through March, and doubles are $139 including breakfasts! Come join the workshop, enjoy a luxury hotel, walk across the street to the studio, then to the plaza!

More information, links to hotels, restaurants and other information is at Santa Fe Resources.
Sorry for two posts in one day, but you need to call the hotel now if you are interested in these rates! Looking forward to seeing you here-

IE: Furisode Textile Surface Effects + Design

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 11.32.31 AM
Furisode Kimono with Noshi Bundle Design, Kyoto National Museum, Japan

If you have’t yet delved into Japanese textile design you’re in for such a treat! Making gorgeous fabrics since 550 AD seems to be their motto. My alltime favorite: This coral and gold kimono, from the 18th C and now in the Kyoto Museum designated an ‘Important Cultural Property’. Sumptuously showcasing silk weaving, yuzen and shibori dying and metallic embroidering techniques, it’s captivated me since I was a child and received a book with its picture.
The bundled noshi, strips of edible seaweed, are a delicacy and an auspicious symbol. The artist went further: he brought in classic cultural references : each yuzen-dyed and embroidered section of the  ribbons is a visual quotes of textile techniques from other eras in Japan. The ribbons are held by a gold-wrapped silk embroidered knot, the threads couched onto the hand-dyed patterning. The whole exquisitly celebrates Japan’s rich sweep of textile design.

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 11.32.39 AM
Image from Kyoto National Museum, Japan
Detail of vintage obi, the broad sash for kimono. From tumblr: The Kimono Gallery.

I’d love to show you close-up details of the glorious furisode – this type of kimono- but the museum keeps it in low light and there are no images online  where you’d see the incredible profusion of surface effects.

Details are necessary  though, and you need to see the surface effects up close to appreciate them. So I’ve gathered a collection of closeups of other more recent furisode from the Ichiroya (“The Kimono Flea Market!”) site. They do an exhaustive job of photographing and documenting their kimonos, I am in awe of their dedication and labor.
So. Notice – well heck just notice everything. Make sure you enlarge them to see the details. Layers of patterning of the jacquard weave in the silk fabric itself underpin all the colors, patterns and embroidery, building on each other to sumptuous effect. I’ve also added a few images of these furisode in use, on maiko in Kyoto and Gion.

What do these inspire you to make? What do they help you notice as you go through your day? Well…. They make me want to finish this post right now and go make things!
Later, my friends-














Inspirations: Translucency and patterning

Golden Bird brooch Tory Hughes©2012 polymer, acrylic, gold leaf, gold wire

We’re all endlessly mesmerized by translucency.

Joy Brooch Tory Hughes©1999 polymer, acrylic, gold leaf
Joy Brooch Tory Hughes©1999 polymer, acrylic, gold leaf

It reveals the less-seen to us, the slightly hidden, and rewards attention. Translucency returns me to childhood, to the intimate worlds I found in ponds and tide pools that were all mine to explore. Do you remember wading in the cool waters of a nearby creek or beach when you were young? Mud between your toes as you looked down through flowing water onto constantly dancing pebbles and leaves flowing by – maybe a fish or its shadow swimming along?

GreenBlueBlade brooch, Tory Hughes©2013 polymer, acrylic, gold leaf
GreenBlueBlade brooch, Tory Hughes©2013 polymer, acrylic, gold leaf

Seeing into the interior of something is magical. When you combine translucency with what can be layered into its depths, our creative options are endlessly seductive.

Amber is our earliest translucent precious artifact: its value enhanced by the totemic inclusions of insect or feather. Obsidian, and even lightning-struck sands that had vitrified, could be transparent or translucent, as well as holding a very sharp and useful edge. We have always been suckers for clear shiny things.

A cage cup, Roman, 4th Century AD

For sheer beauty and magic, though, glass-manufacturing and its later technological developments were the key.
Although Egypt had a thriving glass and ceramic industry, perhaps stemming from trade with Mesopotamian kingdoms who developed glass technology as early as 3500BC, the first truly transparent glass was manufactured by the Romans. Masters of industrial organization, they made glass, a lot of glass. Many of the pieces were buried and often acquired that highly covetable iridescent patina, stemming from corrosion on the surface of the glass.

Iridescence resulted from a glass vessel was buried in soil that leached the alkali from the glass. The corroded layers flaked off, leaving a surface that reflected light in such a way as to cause iridescence.
‘Iridescence on a glass vase. When buried in soil, alkali was leached from the glass. The corroded layers flaked off, leaving a surface that reflected light in such a way as to cause iridescence.’ Toledo Museum

Now we can mimic those scintillating transparent layers, patterning and iridescence with various materials- on polymer and other media.
There’s a kind of magic in revealing depth this way, a sleight of the creative hand and aesthetic eye.

Aquarelle 1, Tory Hughes©2012 polymers, acrylic, gold leaf, gold wire
Aquarelle 1, Tory Hughes©2012 polymers, acrylic, gold leaf, gold wiremedia, in artworks of  polymer and other materials.

When I first began using Fimo translucent, in the late 1970s, I explored ways to enhance the transparency and exaggerate its impact. I learned a great deal about the structure of polymer, since the translucent ‘colors’ in all brands are the raw material of that brand, with no opacity or pigment. So I could see what was happening internally after curing,  and how that related to translucency as well as its durability.
Since the mid 1980’s, I’ve used layers of translucent and translucent based colors in classic mokume gane as well as other layered techniques of mine.

Translucent polymer and other layers of polymer and pigments in my imitative agate beads. Tory Hughes©200

Agates for instance rely on translucent polymers, both Fimo and Premo, to recreate the internal patterning we all lust after. I also incorporate translucency and patterning into my mobiles as well. I’ve stretched this recently by using lexan and sheet acrylic in larger wall and elevated constructions.

Maikosan Wall piece, detail polymer, acrylic Tory Hughes©2015
Maikosan wall piece, detail  Tory Hughes©2015    polymer, lexan, acrylic


What do you do now with translucencies? What would you like to do?
For those of you curious about our Koi Pond workshop in March, we’ll be doing these techniques and others.

I.E:: Japanese early 20th C black lacquer hibachi

imageHow we look at things is the foundation for how we make things. In sharing how I look at the world around me, you’re invited to notice more, and respond to more, of your own world. The longer posts on my site are a survey of inspirations. This series goes deeper with single objects.

First the object, one of a pair found at The Zentner Collections
“A pair of Japanese hibachi, or braziers, done in black lacquer decorated with chrysanthemums in gold and mother of pearl, inspired by Ogata Korin and Kenzan of the Rinpa School. The motif is also known as manju-kiku since it appears similarly to a red bean filled mochi sweet. Two lacquer techniques are used for the hibachi: The top and bottom is done using a technique called, tataki-urushinuri and the center is simple shin-nuri. Early 20th century. Height 8.5″ Diameter 13.5” “.


Every aspect of this object is carefully considered. An example of deliberate intention, whose clarity and congruity of aesthetic is everywhere in the piece. Abstract organic style, beautiful craftsmanship, and minimal materials that have more impact because of their scarcity.

The overall shape, simple yet not simplistic, is an abstraction: not quite round, not an oval, not a pillow. It has integrity because it is precise, purposeful, despite its uncommon profile.

Showing the interior metal dish that acts as brazier

Dividing the black surface into thirds frames the central decorated area, drawing attention to it. At the same time, framing bands cut across portions of the motif, right through a highly stylized chrysanthemum.

This cutting-off of seemingly important elements is a classic Japanese compositional move. To me it implies that these are natural forms in situ, where the unpredictable, the uncontrollable, happens routinely. Here the lacquer and inlays are not so much decoration, as hommage to what is already all around us: the beauty of a single observed moment. So this present moment itself is the motif here, as in the butterfly tray below. There’s a link too between the confidence of an artist and her willingness to remove parts of the design to strengthen the whole.

Back to the hibachi…picture4

This detail illustrates the glorious play of different surface effects: gold, textured matte black, mother of pearl, glossy black lacquer. Three variations on irregular ovals made of gold and nacre. Simple but non-repeating shapes that show off the beauty of the materials themselves, particularly when applied in this subtle relief, and adding the impression of depth as the chrysanthemum leaves lie above that golden oval.

These hibachi are dated early 20th C, when art deco, itself already influenced by Japanese organic minimalism, was leaking back into Asian art. I’m not an art historian, but an artist, although our long human history of cross-pollination is intriguing. For now this is about integrating inspiration into our work.

Let’s digress a moment. Black lacquer tray by Shirayama Shosai (1853-1923). I believe those are tiny mother-of-pearl chips inlaid into the upper edge of the tray. 

It’s not enough to say ‘I love Japanese art’. We all love Japanese art. If I want to emulate it I need to figure out what about it I love specifically. Then bring those approaches into my own work. That is what using something for inspiration really is about.

In this object’s design I see a wonderful balance between large glossy black areas, and small, potent touches of gold, nacre and textured black. My attention goes back and forth, sinking into the black, then being pulled back up to the surfaces. There’s simultaneously an organic nonchalance with sumptuous materials here. A very Japanese dichotomy.

The unusual shapes of both the object itself, and the design elements, reinforce each other. Variations on surfaces: textured and opaque, pearlescent and iridescent, thick gold, and that luscious black, all animate the piece so that my eye goes around and around discovering. Placing  elements, like these chrysanthemum ovals, in a organic and random array is challenging but a worthwhile effort.

Try this. Look very closely at something that makes you catch you breath, take your time, and list three things you notice.
Where do you want to do more of those in your own artwork?







Swimming in Clear Beauty

SeaCliff Brooch Tory Hughes©2012 polymer, acrylic, gold wire, gold leaf. Various layering techniques, an upwardly arched surface, set onto black polymer just barely visible outlining the piece. 2.5″ x 1″ x .5″

Flying. Floating. Looking into secret realms. Seeing through layers. Translucent scrims covering colors images and patterns…
There’s a kind of magic in revealing depth this way, a sleight of the creative hand and aesthetic eye.

Collection of glasses with 'gold' foils on fluted areas, from World Market 2015.
Drinking glasses with ‘gold’ foils on fluted areas, from WorldMarket last year.

When I first began using Fimo translucent, in the late 1970s, I had two goals: exploring processes and materials to visually enhance its effective transparency, and developing ways to manipulate the polymer clay for maximum translucency. I learned much about the structure of polymer: what was happening internally when it is heated, and how that corresponds to its translucency or opacity, as well as its durability.

Antique glass bottles that I’ve picked up over the years…

I investigated how to color translucent polymers to maintain their clarity. Like everyone else I yearn for a clear-like-glass polymer clay and have enjoyed Pardo’s translucent.
If we can send people to the moon, and 3D-print organs, there must already be inexpensive glass-clear polymers somewhere. You find them and let us know! Since the mid 1980’s, I’ve used layers of translucent and translucent based colors in mokume gane. Mokume is a perfect setting for translucent, because the varying thicknesses of the polymer show depth.

SeaCliff Brooch Early Spring Waters Tory Hughes©2013 polymer, acrylic
SeaCliff Brooch ‘Early Spring Waters’    Tory Hughes©2013 polymer, acrylic   An example of translucent mokume gane that I’m fond of.

I looked at material objects from all fields, as well as photographs. I’m mesmerized by the Japanese ability to represent almost palpable visual depth in materials that are unyieldingly opaque.

Josh Simpson Studios, glass spheres ‘Inhabited Earths’ gotten in a trade I did years ago in Massachusetts. About 2″ in diameter. Various hot glass techniques

When I work in translucencies now, I have a range of other materials and effects I bring in. Some are involved in the layering, some float on the surface of the piece and emphasize the depths below.

Kailash 2 Tory Hughes©2012 Polymer, acrylic, gold
Kailash 2 Brooch Tory Hughes©2012 Polymer, acrylic, gold
SeaCliff brooch Tory Hughes©2012 Polymer, acrylic, gold leaf Assembled and collaged polymer translucent elements

I incorporate translucency and patterning into my mobiles as well. I’ve stretched this recently by using lexan and sheet acrylic in larger wall and elevated constructions.

What do you do now with translucencies? What would you like to do?
For those of you curious about our Koi Pond workshop in March, we’ll be doing these techniques and others like it: emphasizing translucent layering of colors and patterns in jewelry. More to come.

On another note- My website is in the midst of upgrades and construction. For example, the formatting of this post and photos is skewed, rats. When I get it straight, I’ll put up more images for you.  Thanks in advance for your patience!

Float detail (Butterfly Mobile) Tory Hughes©2013 polymer, brass wire, lean, monofilament The butterflies are all made of translucent based colors, and the characteristic Fimo pebbling is very apparent as the sun shines through them. Larger butterflies approx 3.5″ high

Please feel free to get in touch with me or Gretchen with any questions or comments- Enjoy your own creative delights! Tory

Gretchen Brock, Ace Assistant, and 2016 Workshop Schedule!

Gretchen in officeJan16
Gretchen on a late snowy afternoon. As a historical preservationist, she seems particularly at home in this old adobe casita.

“Hello from the assistant’s office at Tory’s new studio! I was asked to write a guest blog post to tell you a little more about myself. I also want to let you know my email address at is up and running, and answered daily for all inquiries. I’m looking forward to meeting you in person at Tory’s workshops and studio!

For example, cat #1, Morpheus, amidst some of Gretchen’s quilts.
Gretchen is a committed quilter, although she downplays it in her note to you. Their home is effervescent with colors and pattern, as her quilts are very much part of everyday life, on tables and chairs, layered on sofas, in cat-approved lounging areas near windows. Check out her big swirling stitching patterns, layered over the angular color blocks…

“A little background about myself (or small talk in print form). My husband, four cats, entirely too many books, and I moved to Santa Fe two years ago from the suburbs of metro Atlanta.

“We have found New Mexico to, indeed, be the Land of Enchantment (or as colloquially called the Land of Entrapment) and Santa Fe to be a marvelous place to live and explore. After growing up in the countryside of Michigan between Flint and Detroit, and spending over two decades in and around Athens, Georgia and metro Atlanta, I was ready for the move to a completely different climate and landscape.

Luscious swirling shapes on this one make that deep plum even richer.

“Formal studies in anthropology, English literature, and historic preservation led to a career at the Georgia Historic Preservation Division as the National Register coordinator for the state from 1998-2012. At that point, my deep abiding love for a historic 1912 bungalow that needed lots of work led me to add a part-time career at Starbucks in 2002. An endless supply of coffee, interesting coworkers and customers, and flexible schedule has kept me there through the present. Tory’s daily americano habit led to our meeting several months ago, and here I am.IMG_4017

“When not being a barista/supervisor or assistant or wife or cat-herder, I am an avid reader (mostly history and non-fiction), baker, Anglophile, and explorer of museums, historic places, landscapes, movies, local restaurants, art, and the unique cultures of my new home state. I look forward to sharing my explorations with you. I am also a quilter for personal expression, enjoyment, and a love of fabric and design.

“Voila! that is a little about me. Thanks for reading!”

Cat Looking Brooch Tory Hughes©2011
For Gretchen, and the four cats, and the lovely husband, and the new life in Santa Fe! (Tory Hughes©2011)

Tory here- Gretchen appeared as I was moving to this new space. A new space needs a functional Ace Assistant! She is very smart, widely knowledgeable, warm, perceptive and oh la! capable at everything. For instance, she has extensive experience in setting up and managing all aspects of group programs: workshops, retreats, conferences. Know what that means? Great classes and events!
We’ve blocked out the workshop schedule for all of next year.  Lots of behind-the-scenes activity to make these workshops sing from here on out. For now, the Basics:

2016 A Series of Three-day Workshops in Santa Fe with Tory Hughes 
All are $495 for the workshop and materials (except for Holiday BonBons, a different sort of event) You’ll hear more about them all.
In brief to whet your appetite
Jan 29, 30, 31  “Ancient Artifacts, Exotic Talismans” recreate precious materials in polymer then combine them with found objects for antique objects with intriguing significance. [sold out]
March 4, 5, 6    “Koi Pond”  creating layers of translucent colored watercolor imagery and assembling these elements for jewelry and small artwork
April 15, 16, 17  “Spring Mornings” mokume gane and infinite patterning for pendants, earrings, bracelets
June 22, 23, 24   “Jump, Spin, Wobble, Hop” adding movement of all kinds to jewelry and objects
Sept 9, 10, 11  “Show, Tell, Hide” simple, complex and conceptual boxes and sculptural containers both small and large
October 21, 22, 23  “Artist Bookishness” exploring all the things a ‘book’ can be, and be made from: polymer pages, transparent covers, books that hang from the ceiling…
November 12 and 13  “Holiday BonBons” our annual holiday gift-making event. Bring your gift list, leave with wrapped presents for everyone on your list. All polymer and materials, ribbons and wrapping paper, festive food and beverages, shiny star stickers, and lots more included. $595
January 9 – 13, 2017   “Cornucopia”
Cornucopia is designed for renewal and re-inspiration! Both an overview class for students wanting a high-quality initiation into the range of polymer, and those wanting a refreshing reminder of why we love to work in polymer. All materials and light lunch each day, $895.

Great to have you with us all, Gretchen! Thank goodness I drink so many americanos, or we would not be benefiting from Gretchen Brock, Ace Assistant, here at the studio!

Time, it’s everywhere you want to be

Ancient Asian Faience: my polymer beads

Partly prompted by our upcoming ‘Ancient Artifacts’ workshop (it’s sold out, thank you!), I’ve been thinking about how much we like things that are old. Sometimes really old.

Early 20th C brass lighter, my collection

Objects develop a personality along with us, as we all move forward in time.  As creatives, we respond directly to what we surround ourselves with. I see my collection of oddities and objects every day. Since I chose them because I like them, they’re part of my aesthetic and directly inspire and influence my artwork.

Paint-mixing bowl,abalone, 100,000 BCE

It turns there is no consistent definition for “antiquity” or “ancient”, merely a kinda-sorta range of “really old” that we tend to agree upon. This abalone shell bowl is the oldest agreed-upon human artifact.
LiveScience website: “Archaeologists in South Africa uncovered two 100,000-year-old abalone shells and assorted bones and stones that served a toolkits to make some sort of red ochre-based  The mixture may have been used as a paint or adhesive. It’s the oldest evidence of humans making a complex compound and of humans using containers.

Artists, you’ll note, were already making things and leaving bits behind, 100,000 years ago.

Minoan "Palace style," vessel, ca. 15th century BCE, Athens National Museum
Minoan “Palace style,” vessel, ca. 15th century BCE, Athens National Museum. Not in my collection. Rats.

This personality of objects is also in things we grew up with, like special objects from childhood or things that accompany us on our lives today. Do any of you have things you’ve seen in an antique shop, and bought, because they were somehow yours already and needed to come home now?

Papua Hinged Pendant©Tory Hughes: polymer ‘antique’ element, hinged to vintage Indian brooch, coiled wire carriers on the side: antique and vintage beads.This spectrum of desirable age stretches for thousands of years. Each of us leans into our own sweet spots along this spectrum. An object I love as is for layers of historical richness might just look dirty and beat-up to you, and be full of possibilities to someone else.

There are other qualities that make an object desirable, like inherent beauty, emotional resonance, and memory repository. Yet even just the apparent age of an object will trigger feelings and responses in us. If we make things, we can bring those same age-based characteristics into our work, to please ourselves and communicate to others.

Souvenir Box sculptural book, Tory Hughes©1997 polymer, antique glass, magnolia pod, paper, antique Chinese mother of pearl, copper monkey, brass, mylar
Souvenir Box sculptural book, Tory Hughes©1997 polymer, antique glass, magnolia pod, paper, antique Chinese mother of pearl, copper monkey, brass, mylar

Photographing, cataloguing and storing my collection of objects, while also establishing this new gallery space and seeing my own work differently, has given me a lot to think about.

Antique poker chip, worn Tibetan turquoise bead, section of coral root, limestone shard from the Yucatan
Antique poker chip, worn Tibetan turquoise bead, section of coral root, limestone shard from the Yucatan

Some of these objects I had forgotten about – and under the intimacy of the close-up shot, I fall in love with them all over again. My fondness for them re-emerges in my work, and is a part of me that I want to share with you.

… Tell us what you notice about your own collections, and how they inspire you. What do you want to share with us?

Amber’s Solid Gold

image Covetous humans have sought amber for adornment and healing for at least 13,000 years, back to the Paleolithic.

From SKJ Traders who have fabulous beads, oh my.

Technically ‘paleolithic’ means ‘ancient stone’ since that was the source of their tools. Although given those early humans were already captivated by amber’s magically glowing golden translucency and characteristic light weight, maybe we should call it the Paleoamberine or the Paleoaesthetic. We alread had an innate sense of beauty and magic, as well as engineering.image
Amber is also the first polymer, way before Fifi et al. Pine trees oozed and drooled resin down their bark, the resin fell onto strategic areas of the forest floor, and then if all went well, millions of years passed peacefully as the resin polymerized and hardened by the heat and compression of the layers above it. Copal is a partially polymerized resin, needing 50 or 60 million more years. It’s all about time and temperature.
The large pieces shown above are unshaped Baltic amber and copal. There are also two nepali silver-capped copal beads, one with coral bits, and a lovely antique repaired yellow amber bead, with silver studs and pitch repairing a seam. with the distinctive larger hole that amber’s softness requires. The bumpy Yemeni silver bead at the lower right is actual silver.

Neolithic Lithaunian amber
Neolithic Lithaunian amber

I’m drawn to amber by its glowing gold light, and all its varieties of saffrons, umbers, and buttery yellows. I love the gentle organic shapes that come from its softness as a material. I’m drawn as well to the symbolic and cultural connections: from the Baltic sea, traded down to the Atlas mountains, as well as from the Carribean where green and blue ambers echo the colors of ocean and forests.


Amber’s enigmatic combination of properties – warm, light, hard, clear – compel our attention and attempts at mimicry. Amber chunks are tiny time machines trapping the ecosystem of 150,000,000 years ago, quietly offering us scientific knowledge, luxurious jewelry, prestigious medicinal practices.
Imitative polymer amber feels like the real material because it is very very close to the real material. Hydrocarbons polymerized.AnicentArtifacts:BeadsGroup

This is the first in a series of posts about using what you have gathered around you to inspire you.
I’ll share things from my collections, tell you a bit about why I have them, and show some of the pieces I’ve made that are inspired by them. We’ll talk about design, history, art, science, spirituality

I have an extensive collection of unusual objects. Also books. Since moving, I’m baffled about what to do with them other than lovingly lining them up on my windowsill. My new place is elegant and minimal, and has no windowsills. Since many of you may never make a visit to my studio, I will show you some of my inspirations in these photographs, and tell you what I respond to. Perhaps this will prompt you to reexamine what you love about what you’ve gathered.
Until next time, enjoy your own inspiring life!
ps: If you are inspired by ancient and exotic objects like those above, one space just opened up in our Antique Artifacts workshop Jan.29-31. $495, includes most materials. You’ll need to pay in full by Jan 8.  Email me to let me know you’re in and for details, and I hope you can join us!