Finding answers in clay

Littleton woman’s designs come to her in dreams

Artist Gwen Pina of Littleton works on a polymer clay figure of a Native American woman.
Hand-made figure of a Storyteller created from polymer clay by Gwen Pina of Littleton.
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Gwen Pina of Littleton said she had always worked with her hands — mud pies as a kid, woodworking shop in high school.

As a parent of three young children, she needed to find a way to work at home and colorful polymer clay provided an answer.

“The oil-based synthetic clay is pliable and colorful, allowing me to see my results immediately,” she said.

Her lifelong interest in Native American culture worked well with this medium and her figures, such as storytellers and spirit horses, began to sell in area galleries and gift shops. She started her business in 1987, working at home.

Soon, she created her whimsical “Art That Makes You Smile” figures: “Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil,” with polar bears, nuns, rabbis as well as monkeys.

She makes thousands of holiday ornaments, many in limited edition for a special customer.

“I offer a store a way to be unique. I create custom items for them.”

And every piece is individually shaped by her hands.

Her designs come to her in dreams, she said. She doesn’t need to make sketches, but just can feel when the figure is right.

“When I’m out hiking or biking, I notice colors and textures.”

Her work is in National Park Service gift shops across the country, including designs specific to the region: moose, bear and more.

Now she mostly wholesales her figurines. She shares a shop #1235 at the Denver Mart, “American Craft,” with several other women, who emphasize their American- made products. Government rules require that the Park Service shops include a percentage of American products — something she was active in advocating, she said.

She participates in trade shows and sells through high end galleries and Christmas shops and gift catalogs. The Evergreen Gallery has her work in this area and sometimes it is stocked at Willow on Littleton’s Main Street, although not this season. It’s the little Main Street types of places where it sells-Tennyson Street, Santa Fe Art District, South Pearl Street, for example.

Pina has mentored young businesses to help them get started and continues to do all of her work from her basement home studio, which is divided into work space, invoicing/computer space and a packing and shipping area. She orders 1,000 pounds of clay every couple of months and it’s shelved by color.

It’s gotten easier with the possibility of having the U.S. Post Office and Fed-Ex come to her door to pick up shipments, with a click on her computer.

Regarding her disciplined ongoing work schedule, she laughs and says, “I went to Catholic school!”

Her individual retail outlet is on the Etsy site: claytwister.com, where she can do a custom order if a customer has a special request.

Right now, she is working six or seven days a week and she anticipates a break after the holidays.

“And then I’ll begin designing…”

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