ATLANTIC CITY — A forest filled with small plants and animals — made completely out of clay — is on display at the Noyes Arts Garage of Stockton University.

The “Into the Forest” exhibit came about after three artists — Laura Tabakman, Emily Squires Levine and Julie Eakes — attended a polymer clay retreat in 2015 and were inspired by the aspen trees in the Rocky Mountains.

Over the following year they created the project and displayed it at an art gallery in Pittsburgh in 2017, according to the display’s website —

After realizing the space was too big for their exhibit, they put out an international call to all polymer clay artists to create pieces inspired by their environment that they could add to the display.

The three main artists could not be reached for comment.

The exhibit turned into a bustling forest with a rainbow of flowers, small animals, birds, bugs, beehives and more — with the help of 300 polymer clay artists worldwide. Nothing is painted. Every intricate detail, from a tiny snail the size of a finger nail or the changing colors on a leaf, is made out of polymer clay, which is an oven-baked modeling clay.

“Everyone loves it,” said Katie Simkins, custom framer and gift store manager at the arts garage. “Everyone wants to touch everything. We have to have checks all the time just to make sure that no one is touching anything. I love how intricate it is and how carefully everything is made. I also love the fun aspect of it ... it makes you feel like you are into the forest.”

The Arts Garage, located at 2220 Fairmount Ave., opened more than five years ago and holds exhibits — five to 10 a year — an African American Heritage Museum, two main art galleries and vendor and artist spaces.

It also offers free art classes for children, which began in the summer, and will soon be offering adult art classes.

“It’s important because we have a very creative and diverse community here,” Simkins said. “Atlantic City has always had such potential, but no one has really taken advantage of it until recently. The (Atlantic City) Arts Foundation has done a lot for the community. We’re trying to do a lot for the community and Stockton University is doing a lot for the community. We’re all trying to bring color and life to Atlantic City again.”

Donald Schafer, from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, was visiting the arts garage with his wife. He often comes to The Walk to shop and eat at Angelo’s Fairmount Tavern located across the street, but he’s never been in the Arts Garage before Sunday.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said of the exhibit. “Once you walk in and realize how much work went into it all to make it, it’s all very intricate.”

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