Interview with Betty Raecase

Here is a Tuesday Special... an interview with the only human ivory sculptor I know of! Want to know more? Read on and learn all about Betty Raecase! You will never think of your finger nails in the same way again!

I am a 24 year old artist and educator living in Lopatcong, NJ. When I am not making art I am usually hiking the outdoors, working at a cute shop in Easton called Mercantile Home, or searching and applying for full-time art teaching positions. My heart is set on a few careers at this point, all of which I hope to experience. Mainly I want to be an elementary art teacher. Down the road I want to be the director of my own camp with heavy influences of nature and the environment, art and crafts, and peaceful living. I hope to do this on some acreage where ever I decide to settle down. I'm also very interested in window display work and installation. I have one child and he is a fairly large cat. His name is Clifford Joseph.

How did you find Etsy? How long have you been selling on Etsy?
Good question! I'm guessing someone told me about Etsy about two years ago. I've been a seller for a year and a few months now. It took a little while to make some sales. I guess I thought it would be more immediate. But when I realized how many sellers are on Etsy...I mean, WHOA WHOA! It is endless! I always get inspired by the featured sellers and how they say not to give up and not to be afraid to try different approaches in your shop. I still have only a few sales, 38 I think.
I am overly fond of craft shows and it's like being in a craft show ALL THE TIME. Of course craft shows are great because you meet the maker, but Etsy lets you convo the maker which is awesome, too. The sellers on Etsy are really generous. I have asked for advice on selling approaches, art techniques, and how to use the website and I always end up conversing with unique, talented and determined folks.

How would you describe your style?
I would describe my products and my style as humorous and shocking, yet refined and sophisticated. I like my art to mimic the types of objects kept in cabinets of curiosity and museums of wonder. They resemble little artifacts and specimens.
I am a very energetic and joyful person who loves flashy colors and chaos, so for my work to be neutral-colored and simple actually shocked me. I never thought this is what I would be doing after graduating art school :)

How long have you been creating?  What are your inspirations?
I can honestly say I've kept a sketchbook since I could hold a pencil. My parents always encouraged me to record my life and thoughts and to be a free thinking kid. They even gave me complete artistic freedom in my bedroom...which meant bright colored paint, tape, and found objects ALL OVER THE WALLS! Getting all that off wasn't fun, but I just reminded myself that it made me who I am today.
I always, ALWAYS, knew I wanted to be an artist. My ma asked me every year what I wanted to be when I grew up. I always said and "artist", except for the year I was in preschool. She asked what I wanted to be and I said "a pumpkin", but that's when I didn't understand the concept of career. :) And even if I was to aspire to be a pumpkin, my parents would have stood beside me the whole way.
My father is a painter and contractor. He has the best craftsmanship I've ever seen. And mother is a supervisor of an after-school program. She has always been so (amazingly) ecologically creative with her kids. I definitely have had the proper training in being a wacko artist! They are my main inspiration in doing what you love and loving what you do.

Other inspirations include:
-being in nature
-function of the human body
-having a very traditional art education in college
-cabinets of curiosity
-human interactions
-trash and recycling
-public art

Have you had any mentors, or are you self taught?
Again my parents were the push behind pursuing art. I went to the Delaware College of Art and Design to get my Associate in Fine Art. It was a VERY traditional school, mainly painting and drawing from observation and using charcoal and oil paint. Then I went to the Maryland Institute College of Art and received my Bachelors of Fine Art and stayed there for Graduate school to get my Master of Arts in Education.

When do you sell the most and what drives you to create?
Selling this body of work is actually very new for me. The debut of "Human Ivory and other Objects of Curiosity" was in December of 2009. It was a craft show called the Indiemade Craft Market in Allentown, PA and it just so happened to be the best day of my life! I never thought I could get such satisfaction from putting my work out to the public and watching people react. It was a pivotal day for me! It was when I realized that not only did I unintentionally cross boundaries with myself, but for art as I knew it. I had created this body of work that made (well...practically forced) others to react on natural impulse. When people found out I made art out of nail clippings and belly button lint some would scream, some would gag, some would stare blankly. Some would laugh and one even told me I was "the most disgusting person on Earth." Every reaction is different and I treasure all of them. It often takes people a while for it to sink in. At craft shows people will be disgusted at first, walk around a little and come back dragging a larger group of people with them saying "Look what this crazy girl does, you won't believe it!" It is all very intuitive.
Oh, but to answer the question of when I sell the most (hehe, sorry)... I'd have to say when I'm actually at a craft show. People like to interact with the artist and I get so excited when talking about my art that it becomes sort of a performance, illustrating where I get my ideas and why I love it. 

What is one thing about you creative process most people don't know?
Woah, this is a great question! I like it.
Most people wouldn't guess that I get grossed out by my materials, the clippings and the lint, but really I do. Sometimes I'll spend hours happily gluing clippings together into teeny creatures and get lost in this little world where I wonder what they would look like with all their skin, fur, feathers and scales. And I think of how they would move and what they would eat. I could be content for hours but then I'll touch my face or rub my eye and freak out... thinking GERMS! Oh shit! Germs. Germs! But that feeling comes and goes quickly.  

What is your favorite custom work/favorite order?
I do custom work often...mostly people saving me their or their loved one's nails, sending them to me in the mail, and requesting a type of figure to go inside the resin. One of my favorites is actually one that my boyfriend and I wear. It wasn't a custom piece that was created for money but for sentimentality. We have matching necklaces of "love bugs" that were made of a combination of both our nail clippings. It marks our quirky togetherness.
I always welcome any ideas for custom jewelry.

What is your favorite item you have made?
I would have to say the tampon dress. I made it while in college. The assignment was to create an article of clothing out of multiples of one object. I picked tampons because they are soft and kind of strange, especially to wear on the outside of the body! When I went into the Family Dollar and bought 20 boxes of tampons people thought I had a big problem. I wanted to wear something saying "Its okay, I'm an artist" but that moment helped me get over caring so much about what people were thinking.

Here is a link to the dress:

I also adore the little Belly Button Lint Bears. Just 'cause they're so damn cute and most people can relate to them. I also love the story behind the idea: When I met my boyfriend's father for the first time, who is also an artist, we discussed my artwork, mainly my human ivory pieces. Once I broke it to him that the figures I've preserved in resin were carefully constructed of toenail and fingernail clippings his initial comment was "What's next? I teddy bear made of belly button lint?" I went home and created a bear, about one inch tall, of dryer lint. I placed the little guy inside a bag, put a label on it that said "bear made of belly button lint" and gave it to him. It was almost a year before I let him in on the secret...that the little guy's origins weren't of the belly button, but of the lint trap in the dryer. I think he still loves him just the same.


  1. This is an awesome interview which I enjoyed reading. She is a true one of kind artisan.


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