Who would have guessed that a mother, or in this case, Kathleen Dustin’s mother, would know just what her daughter needed to pursue in life? Despite her mother’s recommendation to major in art, Kathleen Dustin followed a very different path into mathematics. It wasn’t until she was 28 that she realized her mother was right: she needed to follow her dreams and her passion for the arts.

Kathleen Dustin

While still working at her “real” job, Kathleen set up a ceramics studio in her parents’ basement. She also went back to school and received her MFA in ceramics from Arizona State University. While in grad school, she took a metalsmithing course, but realized it wasn’t for her. She preferred a medium that was “laid back,” as she says, something that allowed her to create what she wanted without the resistance of sawing, hammering, or filing. This is what drew her to ceramics.

For a ceramicist, it is quite difficult to create work away from the studio and while traveling. Kathleen and her husband traveled overseas for a few years due to his job, which made it difficult for her to pursue her art. That’s when she discovered Fimo, a German brand of polymer clay, which was not only wonderful to work with, but also highly portable. She eventually quit ceramics to focus on working in polymer clay.

When she came back to the United States, Kathleen was introduced to a small network of artists working with polymer clay. Alongside them, Kathleen became one of the pioneers of the polymer clay movement. Since polymer clay was such a new medium, the group did a lot of things themselves: they invented polymer clay millefiori and created their own techniques, tools, and ways of connecting.

Kathleen Dustin creating a millefiori.

Kathleen Dustin demonstrating the art of polymer clay millefiori. (Photo via Dutch Polymer Art Guild.)

Thirty years later, Kathleen Dustin continues to use polymer clay to create astonishing jewelry and sculptural handbags, providing wearable statement pieces for extraordinary women. Kathleen uses her mathematics background to engineer her pieces of art. Like a true mathematician, encouraged by the challenge of solving a problem, Kathleen uses her troubleshooting skills to determine how to execute her artwork so that it is both aesthetically pleasing and functionally wearable.

Tribal Earrings in Black & Rustic by Kathleen Dustin carved-polymer-fauxivory-handbag_edits
Left: Tribal Earrings in Black & Rustic. Right:Harvest Handbag.


Now that she has followed her mother’s intuition into a career in the arts, Kathleen revels in the flexibility of being her own boss. She goes into her studio around 10am, listens to NPR, and sips her coffee comfortably as she works. After taking a break in the evening, she goes back to creating intricate works of art for a couple more hours before day’s end.


Kathleen Dustin’s workstation at a workshop she provides. (Photo via Dutch Polymer Art Guild.)

We often wonder if an artist has a favorite step in the creative process. Kathleen explains that though the beginning is where the idea ignites, and the end results are terrific and motivating, it is what happens in between that really gets her going. Kathleen believes that “the perseverance in the middle is what art really is all about, in spite of the struggle.” She continues, “I go through a lot of work: the problem solving, editing, pulling apart and redoing, trying another way until I finally think I’m finished.”

Kathleen Dustin diligently working. (Photo via Dutch Polymer Art Guild.)

Kathleen Dustin working diligently. (Photo via Dutch Polymer Art Guild.)

Kathleen explains that the two places she draws inspiration from are her personal life and the polymer clay itself. From her travels overseas and living in exotic countries to her relationship with her family, including a parent with Alzheimer’s, her personal life offers plenty of new ideas for her work. Polymer clay itself is such a versatile material that it constantly inspires her, driving her to discover new techniques and to explore juxtaposing it with different materials. These inspirations allow Kathleen to create work that not only makes a big statement, but is lightweight, comfortable, and versatile to wear.

Tribal Earrings & Tribal Necklace by Kathleen Dustin

Tribal Earrings and Tribal Necklace by Kathleen Dustin

Kathleen Dustin has gone from being a mathematics major spending her free time throwing on the potter’s wheel in her parents’ basement to a globe-trotting artist making a living by selling her work. I invite you to discover her strikingly original jewelry pieces in our collection.