Incarcerated Women Find Solace in Clay Making with InsideOut Creatives

All photos by Susan Post.

Thirteen years ago, Cynthia Tinapple started a blog as a way to continue her love of polymer art and reach clay enthusiasts all over the world. Today, with PolymerClayDaily still up and running, Tinapple has found a new passion: teaching clay making to marginalized communities.

Once a month, Tinapple spends an afternoon teaching clay classes at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville. The program is a component of InsideOut Creatives, a business offering polymer clay classes and housed with other social enterprises in The Madery maker space at COhatch’s Library in Worthington, 752 N. High St.

Tinapple first started working with polymer clay in the late 1980s as a bonding activity with her daughter. Clay making eventually would turn into a hobby, and over the years she has sold her work, contributed to exhibits and become a leader in the polymer clay community.

Four years ago, her work led to an invitation by a polymer art fan and corrections officer at the reformatory to teach classes to inmates.

The effect Tinapple’s classes have had on the women in the reformatory is compelling. She has quite a few stories about the women, who are often taken aback by the opportunity to create and make their own choices, even with something as simple as what color to paint a bowl.

“One woman said to me, ‘For an afternoon I felt free,'” Tinapple says. “They’ve risked everything already. They’re so close to the surface. They’re close to their creativity, it’s just never been worked on.”

With the introduction of InsideOut’s classes for the public, the women are able to continue creating polymer clay art once released. It serves as an opportunity to continue the positive effect the classes have had on the women’s lives.

“Empowerment, that’s the buzzword, but it really does begin to empower them,” Tinapple says. “They think, ‘Oh, if I could do this, what else could I do that I didn’t think I could?'”


To keep InsideOut going, Tinapple has been able to rely on a community of polymer art fans and enthusiasts from around the world. She expains how, when the women in the reformatory needed a new pasta machine for hardening clay, she was able to win one in an auction. She was at a conference where a new machine was being auctioned off for $500, but the price kept going up. Through teary eyes, she says when she let the other bidders know the new machine was going to the reformatory, they decided to back off and let her have it.

Artists have also donated their leftover supplies, and volunteers have helped sell bracelets and jewelry the women make for a fund they have access to after rehabilitation.

Tinapple says up until this point, the classes seemed impactful simply because it felt good, for both her and the women. While she is taking notes from the other social enterprises in The Madery, at her age, she says she isn’t necessarily looking to grow her brand.

“I don’t have a big game plan. I’m learning as I go,” she says. “Right now, it helps them, so that’s enough for me.”

Find more information on InsideOut Creatives, visit