If you’re an adventurous t-shirt-wearing type, what kind of bling do you wear to accentuate your lifestyle?
For some, the answer might be Grace Vanderbush’s Earth Clay jewelry. She is the featured artist at this year’s Hutchinson Arts & Crafts Festival.
“I’m honored to be selected as this year’s artist,” she said. “It’s always so empowering that the work you put yourself into is recognized and valued in that way.”
According to Mary Hodson, President of the Hutchinson Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, selecting the featured artist involves finding someone with a unique twist or fun story that captures their heart.
“Grace has an infectious personality that exudes warmth, kindness and grace,” Hodson said. “Her work is sold at national park visitor centers across the country.”
This is not the only honor she is bestowed with. Vanderbush’s recent recognitions include: the 2022 Edina Art Fair Award of Excellence, the 2022 Minnehaha Fall Best Display Award, the 2021 Brookings Summer Arts Festival Best in Show, and the Debbie Hard Award at the 2021 Excelsior Art on the Lake.
This weekend marks Vanderbush’s second appearance at the Hutchinson Arts & Crafts Festival. In 2019 she was a salesperson.
Looking back, Vanderbush said she couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t paint, draw, or carve.
“As a kid, I enjoyed every art medium I could get my hands on, but by the time I was 10, I started working with clay,” she said. “I loved the therapeutic process of squeezing and kneading.”
Born and raised in Minnesota, she was homeschooled until her tweens, which gave her plenty of time to experiment with different mediums. She studied art education at South Dakota State University in Brookings and sold her creations on the side as a substitute teacher. She quickly realized her art could grow into a full-time career and hasn’t looked back since.
“There is nothing more rewarding than seeing my artwork bring joy to others,” she said.
The artist is passionate about creating adventurous works of art, which is why she started Earth Clay Jewelry in 2018. A year later, she sold her miniature sculptural jewelry to some national park visitor centers. It continues to expand to other parks to this day. From the start, she has donated 10% of all her profits to the National Park Foundation.
“My artwork is for people who like to wear t-shirts and go on adventures,” she said. “I create miniature polymer clay sculptures in brass pendants. I use tiny tools and my fingers to mix and shape the clay. I bake the designs that result in waterproof sculptures that are ready for any adventure.”
Vanderbush originally made clay magnets, but she wanted to find a way to make her work portable, so she began experimenting with jewelry supplies.
“I had a very different idea when I started sculpting with a bunch of random jewelry stuff one night, but just before I was about to give up the whole ‘portable sculpture’ idea, I decided to sculpt directly into brass pendants after my first ones Experiments didn’t work,” she recalls. “That’s how the first Earth Clay necklace came about quite by accident.”
The fact that Vanderbush has never seen a necklace like her creation anywhere is one of the most fulfilling things about her art.
“I always prayed that I would be able to create art to make a living because that’s all I ever wanted to do,” she said. “I believe that the first necklace I sculpted was a gift from God because I had never brought any of my (many) art ideas together in such an effortless way, and I have never seen people on the level with connected to my art Earth Clay does. It’s quite magical to be honest.”
Recently, Vanderbush has expanded her collection by creating what she calls ‘clayscapes’.
“I sculpt the clay landscapes in a similar way to the necklaces, except these compositions are much larger and are created on a panel of wood,” she said. “I use my camera’s macro lens to photograph the clay landscapes up close and then print them onto drawing board. There is something truly unique about the texture and depth of clay that seems to draw the viewer in, which has made this a popular new item. They’re basically like massive necklaces for your wall. I sell the prints of these clay landscapes online and at in-person art festivals.”
Vanderbush credits her husband, Jordan, with being a key component in the success of their business.
“Not only has he always encouraged me as I pursue my dream of becoming a full-time artist, but he also spends his free time finding ways to make the business more successful,” she said. “He’s an engineer and is constantly designing and building things to make selling and creating my art easier and more functional. We are a team and I couldn’t do it without him.”
— During the Arts & Crafts Festival, visitors can see Vanderbush’s entire Earth Clay collection, including the National Park Necklace Series featuring all 63 national parks, the Original Necklace Series featuring flowers, skulls, bees and bison necklaces, and the National Park Watercolor Art Print Collection, original clay landscapes and prints. To learn more, visit www.earthclayco.com.