Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Work of His Hand

Beth Seng, sixth in a family of six girls and one boy, was born and raised in Tanganyika, (Tanzania) Africa to missionary parents. Her parents had arrived in Africa in 1933, and for the next 33 years, her father was to do a "pioneer work" with the Africans. At that time, most of Africa had not been reached with the Word of God. Beth's father, a "very gifted man--a man of great faith", and an evangelist and a pastor, would bike to far-from-home remote villages, accompanied by another national pastor, teaching the Word of God to people who had never seen a white man, nor heard the name of Jesus. Later in his life, he taught at a national Bible School, training men to be pastors. Many of these men, even though they are now very old, in turn, fanned through-out the country to spread the 'Good News' of Christ.

At the age of 6 years, Beth was sent to a small boarding school in Tanzania for grades First through Fifth. All through her school years in Africa, from First to Twelfth grade, the schedule rotated with 3 months at school, and 1 month at home with parents. For grades 6-12, Beth attended the Rift Valley Academy, a well-known boarding school in Kenya that is still in operation today. The academy overlooks The Great Rift Valley, a continuous geographic trench, that runs from Northern Syria in Southwestern Asia to central Mozambique in East Africa. From her home in Tanzania, Beth would take a boat, traveling over Lake Victoria for one day and one night, arriving at the town of Kisumu. After a day's rest, the children boarded a train that would transport them overnight to a station near their school.

Beth spoke of the bonding and close ties that were formed with the other missionary children at these boarding schools, but she also acknowledged the difficulties and the loss as a result of their inevitable parting... "The problem with missionary life is that you're coming and going all the time...there are furloughs, people are leaving, sometimes they leave for good--you just leave them for the rest of your life!" "And then, when it's time for you to leave after you've finished school at age 18, you're going and you're never coming back."

After graduation in 1967, Beth returned to the United States, moving in with her sisters (who had previously graduated and left RVA) in Baltimore, Maryland. She received a degree from Gordon College in Massachusetts, and began work as a first grade teacher. Upon marriage, she quit teaching and devoted her time and efforts to her marriage and raising her three children. Later, she lived in Pennsylvania, and South America (as a missionary for Wycliffe Bible Translators for eight years), then moving to Tucson, Arizona in 1992, where she lived until moving to Page, Nebraska in March of 2007.

When speaking of her artistic ability and her interest in clay sculptures, Beth recalls an observant fifth grade teacher--also an artist herself--who noticed Beth's talent for art and told her she 'had a gift'. "She had people sit and we were to draw them and add shading." "She saw a gift even though what I saw of what I drew, I thought, 'well, it's okay, but it wasn't all that great...', but she noticed the gift and I just remember that she said, "you have a gift in art and you should pursue it."" "I've always loved to draw and copy things, and I love any kind of art work, but I've found something different---the clay work is 'me'."

During Beth's time in Arizona, she was first exposed to glazed dough art, a craft that became very popular in the 1980's. Beth eagerly tried her hand at this craft and found that she had a lot of imagination when it came to creating figures and objects--much more imagination than with her drawings. She began creating and selling 2-dimensional scenes on wooden plaques--the only problem was that within 5 years, with the glazed dough being exposed to the elements, it began to disintegrate and fall apart.

1n 1995, Beth came in contact with a woman from Germany who had crafted a refrigerator magnet of a pot with the tiniest, most delicate flowers. Beth enquired as to what this medium was---and this was her serendipitous introduction to polymer clay. She immediately purchased some clay and began making and selling earrings, necklaces, and figurines. One day, a woman asked if she could make 'Storyteller' earrings. A Storyteller is a Native American doll that depicts an elder telling the children the legends and traditions of their people. This request, and Beth's eventual completed design, turned out to be "one very significant change in my artwork".

Beth continues to create earrings, necklaces, figurines, and nativity sets with her polymer clay. "I love the clay because I was able to begin without spending a lot of money." She uses the Premo brand of polymer clay, blending different colors of clay to make stripes (as beautifully illustrated in the robes and blankets) and a finished product that resembles the look of wood. She also uses a pasta machine to make flat pieces for clothing and a clay 'extruder', which is useful in making strands for hair. Obviously, Beth's fine-tuned imagination is the stepping off point for any creation; she must visualize the figure or animal she wishes to create, and then design poses and clothing. First is the body, and then clothing, shoes, hats, and accessories. The process is time consuming, intricate, and inventive, and her figurines exude personality and emotion in their facial expressions and poses.

Beth has been supplying two stores for the past ten years with her Polymer clay sculptures and nativity sets; one in Tubac, Arizona, and a tea room in Tucson.

Beth states, "Having the background that I have, and how God has developed my character through life and through traumas and joys, all that's gone on in my life---I want my work to be a reflection of what God has done in me." She continues, "I can see how He's turned so many things that I thought were negative in my life to where they have become something that I'm thankful for." " I really do have joy in my life and I feel like that's what I want to show in my craft." "When my grandchildren look at my work, I want them to see a reflection of what God has done in me."

Since this interview, Beth has moved from Page, Nebraska to Tucson, Arizona. She now has an Etsy site for selling her clay creations.  Please click on this link to view her current creations.


Photo credits: #1, 3, 6, and 7 by Beth Seng


  1. This was a really sweet story, Joy...what a journey this woman has had, my my....

    Good to read her observation about how things that seemed so negative at the time turned for good...

    I really liked the sculpture of the Native American mom with all the creative!

    Thanks for sharing this, Joy...

  2. Your story made me cry Beth. The sacrifices you were required to make because of your father's work.

    The disjointedness of life to no choice of your own, yet, it is not unnoticed to God. The reward is still in your and your father's future, as well as the rest of your family.

    I am glad to know you and know more of you and your journey with God. As you mold the clay, we also are clay in our Father's hands. As Paul said, "If we cleanse our vessles of defilement, God will use us to carry perfume, flowers, and treasures, to His glory, and not table scraps and the like." Blessings! Floyd

  3. That was so interesting. Her work is marvelous. I would love to be able to see some of her creations. I don't suppose she has a catalog.

  4. No catalog, but if you would care to e-mail me and send me your e-mail address, I can send it on to Beth and you can go from there! My e-mail is on the left side of the blog.

  5. Wonderful story. A true credit to the strength of character of Beth. Her work is so creative. My daughter Kristin did a lot of clay figurines and it was fun to see something that someone else created. My Kristin is now an Art Teacher!

  6. I love Beth's work! I'd heard that you make clay creations Beth and had hoped that I'd see them I'm really intrigued and want to see them at the Farmer's Store. I love the expressions on your figures and the whimiscal joy they reflect!

    So glad you are sharing "our" stories Joy!

  7. I love Beth's creations...they are full of whimsical joy!

    Tbank you for helping us to know people in our community better Joy and get a glimpse into things we might never have guessed!


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