Seen through a rack of her earrings, jeweler Marty McGraw picks up and talks about one of her necklaces made of polymer clay. McGraw’s Switzerland County studio is in her home at 16721 State Road 156. She teaches workshops on jewelry making at various Courierarea venues. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
Seen through a rack of her earrings, jeweler Marty McGraw picks up and talks about one of her necklaces made of polymer clay. McGraw’s Switzerland County studio is in her home at 16721 State Road 156. She teaches workshops on jewelry making at various Courierarea venues. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
One Switzerland County resident's love for learning and teaching didn't stop once she retired from her work as an elementary school teacher several years ago.

Instead, FourWinds Jewelry owner and designer Marty McGraw spends quite a lot of her time learning about new techniques to create polymer clay art that she's displayed over the last several years in Switzerland and Jefferson counties.

"I've been doing this for six years," McGraw said of her clay works, "And I'm always learning new things."

McGraw turned to artistic projects during her retirement, working with several mediums over the years as her creative outlet. Even though she has worked with paper mache and needlework projects, the polymer clay pieces have become her main focus over the years instead of the beaded bracelets and earrings she worked with before.

And even though McGraw has a teaching background, she really didn't have much formal training in art.

"I suppose what I've done in my life has influenced my art," she said, yet she doesn't see any one direct link from her professional teaching career to her creative artwork designs.

She and her husband, Paul, were teachers in several American schools based in foreign countries throughout their careers. The McGraws lived in several locations over the years, including Singapore, Libya, Japan and Kuwait, before returning home to the United States.

The couple settled in the Switzerland County area after looking into property in the Ohio River valley while still living overseas. They purchased the Turtle Creek Harbor marina in Florence. The McGraws operated the marina for a few years before returning to fulfill a teaching contract in Kuwait. The couple again returned to Indiana after teaching in Kuwait and purchased a home on State Road 156, which also serves as McGraw's FourWinds Jewelry studio.

One of the creative techniques she's learned for her polymer clay art projects - Mokume Gane - came from Japanese artists where layers of clay are sliced to expose the layered colors. Other designs were discovered simply by luck from scrap clay pieces or twisting several clay pieces into a thin line of rope, she said.

"Polymer artists have stolen techniques from all kinds of artists." McGraw said. "There's just endless techniques you can use."

The clay, which comes in square blocks from art stores, is often cut and rolled into thin pieces by a pasta machine. After thinning the clay, McGraw layers the product to create a multi-layered and colorful block of clay for the Mokume Gane process. She also combines multiple layers of clay to twist into pieces of rope or strands to make interlocking rings and "lizard tale" pieces.

Other techniques McGraw has learned over the years allow her jewelry pieces to look like glass after hours of work sanding and buffing pieces of clay into works of art.

"People are amazed by it," McGraw said.

The polymer clay pieces are eventually baked in an oven to harden the clay and complete the jewelry pieces. McGraw often combines the polymer clay pieces with other beads and pearls to complete necklaces or earrings to create her one-of-a-kind jewelry.

"You mix your own colors," McGraw said of the polymer clay pieces. "No two are ever alike."

Some of her new style ideas come from just working with the clay to create new idea, while other ideas come from the multiple online resources for polymer clay artists. McGraw follows the Polymer Clay Daily, a daily blog which features new ideas and inspirations from around the world.

"The internet is just full of all the things you can do," she said. "Every day you get on the internet and find someone else's techniques."

McGraw likes to teach others about the artistic process about as much as she likes sharing her work with the community. She teaches classes about working with clay every few months at the Community Art Center in Vevay.

She also displays some of her pieces at the Community Art Center in Vevay, Madison By Design and the Madison Art Club, in addition to opening her home studio, 16721 E. State Road 156, to the public. She also displays her work at other various locations in Vevay and Warsaw.

"I don't have a big fancy art background," she said. "It's basically a hobby."