(Photography by Brian Baiamonte: John Pojman)
By day, John Pojman is a seersucker suit-wearing LSU chemistry professor with one of the world’s largest pocket protector collections and a giant pet salamander named Chrissy.
By night, though, he is an inventor whose work brings something unheard of to the art and industrial world: a clay or putty using polymer reactions that requires no mixing, doesn’t dry out and hardens only when the user wants it to.
“I was interested in reactions that could organize themselves the ways these do, and now my push is, ‘Lets do something useful with it,’” Pojman says. “I was giving a talk one time, and someone suggested I could use it for art.”
Pojman launched the Pojman Polymer Products line about two years ago, including a sculpting clay, a putty that can be used in construction and home repairs, and a 2-D art medium. Now 3P QuickCure Clay is sold in art stores in New Orleans and New Mexico, and Pojman just started working with a sawmill in New Zealand to cook up a version of his putty to use in repairing cosmetic imperfections in wood.
What makes his art clay and putties unique is that they can be molded and hardened with a relatively low level of heat that does not require a kiln. The technology behind his invention relies on the reaction of polymers and heat that makes the product harden into a substance that’s both lightweight and strong.
About two years before officially launching 3P QuickCure Clay, Pojman reached out to art students at LSU to get some insight on his products. Pojman started working with former LSU graduate student Shelby Prindaville to mold his mixture into something more useful to artists by perfecting the consistency. Then he began selling it online.
“He would send me test products, and I would tell him what needed to be tweaked,” Prindaville says. “At some point we reached the stage where I thought it was a really viable sculpting medium and I started making things with it. And he figured out how to make it cheaply enough that he launched the product out into the world.”
The final version of 3P QuickCure Clay allows artists to bypass much of the difficult and tricky parts of sculpting, eliminating the need for a kiln. Also, 3P Quick Cure Clay is strong enough to build sculptures without first creating wire and paper “skeletons” or armatures, Prindaville says.
Prindaville used the medium to create a series of small sculptures of lizards called Anoles. The whimsical figures depict the lizards in various positions, like one balancing straight up its thin tail, that are impossible to create using other types of clay without wire armatures.
Prindaville, now the art program director at the University of Saint Mary in Kansas, uses 3PQuickCure Clay in her classroom because students can cure their work with a heat gun before the class period ends. She says the college cancels classes for one week each spring and students work on projects outside the school’s curriculum.
“Last year, I invited John to come up; he shipped us a large amount of clay and sold us a large amount of the clay. The students did all sorts of stuff and they created a show at the end,” Prindaville says. Some of the student’s creations now mingle alongside the chemistry books and salamander tank in Pojman’s office at LSU.
Pojman is now exploring other applications for the material—namely industrial.
“I’ve also been talking with Shell through the university to find a use for this technology in oil exploration,” Pojman says. “They might fund research to use this approach to start this kind of reaction miles underground exactly where and when you want it.”
Pojman keeps his business and his research separate, and he rents space at the Louisiana Business and Technology Center to mix the clay. His rented space is a step up from his garage, where he used to mix and experiment with the clay.
“It’s a bit like baking,” Pojman says. “First you mix the dry ingredients, then you put it in the bread mixer because it gets so viscous. You use a dough hook; it’s the consistency of bread dough. Mixing it in the garage in the winter was OK, but in the summer was difficult. You need good ventilation.”
Of course 3P QuickCure Clay is not without its flaws: The substance irritates skin, requiring the artist to wear gloves. It can also get hot to the touch after being cured, Prindaville says, but every medium has its downsides.
Pojman says his primary challenge is the fact that people are not sure how to use the 3P QuickCure Clay. He plans to put together a series of videos that explain how to do so; he’s considering putting a Quick Response code on the jars of clay so people in a store can scan the code to access the instructional videos.
“With the art stuff, it’s really about trying to build up the market,” Pojman says. “I go down to New Orleans and do demonstrations because someone picks up a jar and they’re not sure what to do with it. It’s just completely new.”