Artist packs a polymer punch at Sugarloaf Crafts Fair

Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2005

There’s a vibrant garden in the front yard of Margaret Polcawich’s Derwood home, and even in November, the berries and blossoms throw a riot of color and texture that catches a visitor’s eye.

Inside, the collision of nature with the senses continues. Polcawich is an artist, and the hand-sculpted furniture she creates reflects the shapes of branches, leaves and flowers. But it also incorporates function into form: The tables, cabinets, clocks and mirrors need to have ‘‘work functionality.”

‘‘A piece of sculpture that happens to be recognizable as a piece in somebody’s home” is how Polcawich describes her work. ‘‘It’s studio furniture, designed and created by one artist, as opposed to a designer drawing a design for someone else to execute.”

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
Portrait of the artist: Margaret Polcawichcreates hand-sculpted furniture inspired bynature — like the spice cabinet (top) and the box made of polymer clay and wood (bottom).

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Polcawich is a study in contrasts. She looks so young – 28, to be exact – but the handmade furniture on display in her home has a maturity about it. Like the cabinet made of salvaged wood from a 100-year-old barn in Western Pennsylvania and embellished with pulls made of polymer clay, and faux pebbles of the same material. Stenciled maple leaves cascade down the cabinet’s facade, but the piece is restrained, almost subdued. This is no curio cabinet.

‘‘I like working on sculpting a surface that may not be such a usable surface,” she explains. ‘‘With the wall cabinets, I can completely embellish the front and have shelves inside.”

Pewter and copper come together in the form of textured maple leaves on the facade of a spice cabinet. Utility tempers whimsy, and creativity elevates usefulness. The combination makes Polcawich’s pieces unique.

‘‘I knew I wanted to do something related to [art],” says Polcawich, ‘‘but it took awhile to find exactly what I’d do.”

Growing up in Fairfax, she took after her mom, who painted and ‘‘tried making all sorts of crafts.”

Even at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where she earned a master of fine arts degree, things started out vague, then came sharply into focus.

‘‘The first two years, it’s a very general program,” the artist explains. ‘‘You have to try a lot of different media.”

So she painted, did foundry work, tried her hand at a bit of everything.

‘‘Around the summer before my junior year,” she recalls, ‘‘I came across studio furniture.”

Furniture, Polcawich discovered, lends itself to combining materials – ‘‘the warmth of wood with the punch of polymer clay and metal.” And by using a variety of joinery and construction techniques, she can transfer her ideas into furniture right in her garage workshop.

‘‘Usually, I’ll start with a drawing,” she says.

Her basement studio would do Martha Stewart proud, with its skirted worktables and jaunty blue-and-green color scheme. Neat, crisp and highly functional, with a tiny touch of whimsy, it’s the holding pen for a platoon of unfinished clock faces made from polymer clay, painted and stenciled. All they need are clockworks and they’ll be ready for this weekend’s Sugarloaf Craft Festival – Polcawich’s second.

‘‘I’m still pretty new at this,” she admits with a smile, ‘‘still figuring out which pieces are important.

‘‘So far the wall clocks are the smallest items I make.”

And small gift items – mirrors, wall cabinets – seem to do well. But Polcawich doesn’t plan to stop exploring her art form. Recently, she says, she has been focusing on a metalwork technique called mokume-gane, ‘‘where a series of layers are laminated, interrupted and then sliced to reveal patterns.”

Whether they occur in nature or get conjured in her shop, patterns are important to Polcawich.

‘‘It took a couple of years, developing a consistent style,” she says, as Isabel and Sam, the pups she rescued from the shelter frolic around her. ‘‘I like what I’m doing now.”

Hand-sculpted furniture by Margaret E. Polcawich will be on display and for sale at the 30th annual Sugarloaf Craft Festival at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, 16 Chestnut St., Gaithersburg. Hours are Thursday, Friday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Daily adult admission is $7, children 12 and younger are admitted free. Call 301-990-1400.