Grace Vanderbush's polymer clay national park necklaces are a little like vintage cameos—tiny, textural portraits of our country's most precious natural places.
Sculpting process Earth Clay
Credit: Courtesy of Earth Clay

Grace has designed 63 national park necklaces. With each sale, she and her husband, Jordan, make a contribution to the National Park Foundation.

As a child, did you always have an artistic streak?

Even in my baby videos, I was painting! I always had a backpack filled with art supplies. When I was 10, I made clay magnets and started Grace's Gracious Gifts. I set up a store in my bedroom and ushered my family in to see what they wanted to buy.

Sculpting process image with clay bits before they become designs.
Credit: Courtesy of Earth Clay

And now you run a business called Earth Clay. What do you love about this medium?

I've always been drawn to the feel, depth and texture of clay, but one of the most fulfilling things for me is that I hadn't seen anything like this when I started using this sculpting technique. My first necklace was sort of a happy accident. Now I feel that it is such a fun and effective way to show my appreciation for the beauty around me.

Why national parks, specifically?

Growing up, I loved the outdoors and nature, but we didn't have many opportunities to travel. So when Jordan and I married five years ago, our big focus was visiting national parks. They're a huge part of my artistic inspiration. We wanted a way to give back to these places we love so much, so I started sculpting my national park necklaces, with 10 percent of the profits going to the National Park Foundation.

grace vanderbush clay art necklace
Close-up image of hands using tools to sculpt jewelry
Left: Credit: Courtesy of Earth Clay
Right: Credit: Courtesy of Earth Clay

They're so small! How do you convey a park on a pendant the size of a nickel?

I love working on a tiny canvas, but people can't believe it's a handmade sculpture because it's so little. When I hike the parks, I pay special attention to details like rocks, bugs and plants. Other visitors are looking at the iconic landmarks, but I'm getting ideas for my color palette. I mix the clay to get those colors, then use my fingers to build the base in a brass pendant. Then I sculpt the clay using tiny tools into layers of mountains, trees, grass, rivers, flowers and wildlife, one step at a time. Once they're baked, they're ready to go.

What else do you sculpt?

I have a classic collection of necklaces with sunflowers, which are really popular, and also floral bouquets, little bison and deer. On a larger scale, I create what I call clayscapes—nature scenes with so much detail, depth and texture that it almost feels like you're in the scene yourself.

couple portrait with dog and clay art
Credit: Courtesy of Earth Clay

What about your work brings you joy?

People's walls are filled with art, but wearable art is an expression that you can take with you everywhere. It's so rewarding to see people wearing my necklaces on their adventures or to hear stories of how it reminds them of a special moment in their life. Knowing that it inspires them to go to new places, get outside and appreciate nature makes the whole process very fulfilling for me as an artist. It's all full-circle fun!

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.