Glass is captivating. I am not unusual in finding it to be a compelling medium. It readily offers the means to artistically express the dualities of fragility and strength, clarity and opacity, movement and stasis. I am drawn to the concepts of silence and spare-ness as they might be expressed in art, perhaps both spirit-mates of minimalism.
I came to glass later in life, after serial careers as an attorney, editor, and college professor. My glass education has taken me around this country and to professional residencies at Pilchuck Glass School in Washington and North Lands Creative in Scotland. My mentors have instilled in me a deep appreciation of the fact that failure is a path to clarity — and success.
Nature and emotion drive the creation of my work. My glass expresses my responses — to icebergs, to neolithic standing stones, to landscapes large and small — and to the emotions of living in this time of upheaval. As well, living through one of California’s most destructive wildfires has altered my life-view, heightening my sensitivity to the unique bonds that define community and neighborhood.
firstname.lastname@example.org Ventura, California
I created a body of work after I read a diary my dad kept on a 1951 naval voyage to Greenland. He described the icebergs as both stark and formidable, and conveyed his appreciation of the raw beauty of these formations. Some of my works interpret his writings, while others were born of my concern for the loss of icebergs, glaciers, the arctics north and south —as a result of climate change.
My husband and I live in the foothills of Ventura, California, a coastal town 25 miles south of Santa Barbara and, thankfully, over 60 miles north of Los Angeles. In early December, 2017, I returned home after the last day of a glass class at Bullseye Resource Center in Pasadena, a 150 mile round trip. It was warm that night, and winds were gusting to 70 mph.
After seeing references on social media to a fire about 10 miles away, we started checking outside, as the fire was moving in our direction. Soon we could see an orange glow in the hills nearby.
We packed our dog and our cat and some belongings and left, trying to escape what would become, at that time, California’s largest wildfire ever. It was named the Thomas Fire and destroyed 40% of the homes in our neighborhood—-some 200 residences.
As we drove down our driveway, the police came up the street with bullhorns announcing mandatory evacuation. By then, the streets were clogged with other residents trying to flee. Drivers were extremely gracious, allowing neighbors to back out of their driveways to cut in line. We were already taking care of each other.
Those of us whose homes survived were allowed return to our houses five days later, for one hour, driven into the neighborhood by the National Guard. After 12 days, the evacuation was lifted.
We returned to the apocalypse. You have seen the grim photos of burned out cars, chimneys among the ruins. That was our neighborhood.
On our daily morning walks, my husband and I have watched as the fire’s detritus was detoxified with a layer of putrid green foam, then cleared with heavy equipment. Then, for months on end, the lots stood barren, weed-magnets, as plans for rebuilding and the fulfillment of city requirements moved forward at a creeping pace. Then came construction and landscaping, usually in incomprehensible spurts. And now, one by one, the neighbors are returning.
We have empathized with these many neighbors, first losing their homes and most of their possessions, then spending years of their lives displaced — and then, as all of us are, dealing with the uncertainties of the pandemic and the isolation it requires. The drive down to the main road is dotted with empty lots, homes that survived, homes under construction, and completed rebuilt homes. Reminders of the fire are ever-present.
To honor those who endured all this, I started Project Phoenix. I am making a small glass house for the all those who rebuilt their home. The project will go on for months, maybe years, as all the lots are reclaimed.
As I write in a letter to each returning family, the glass house honors their quiet fortitude and their Herculean achievement in rebuilding. We celebrate their return, and know that their losses are incalculable. My hope is that the glass house will bring beautiful light to their beautiful new home. These souls aren’t “neighbors” in the classical sense — I don’t personally know who occupied the 200 lost homes. But times of trouble seem to alter definitions, draw us together, redefine hierarchies of what matters most. We are all neighbors.
The Stillness of Stone
In 2018, I was invited to attend a professional artists’ residency on the northeastern shore of Scotland. Nine artists and two mentors, glass artists Richard Parrish and Steve Klein, set out to immerse ourselves in the unparalleled stark beauty of Caithness, and allow that experience to inspire new work. We were based at North Lands Creative, a brilliant cultural and glass education center in Lybster, a harbor village on the North Sea.
Our given task was to view the landscape through the lens of the mantra “seeking stillness.” Each morning we would meet at a roundtable, share a photo from our previous day’s explorations, and discuss what thoughts we had on creating. We then piled into a van and explored the richness offered by the locals, the land, and the sea, returning in the early afternoon to the studios of North Lands Creative.
The studios gave us the opportunity to create small test pieces — with glass, paper, paint, wood — to explore how we might develop the residency theme “seeking stillness” in our own artistic voice. Each resident had a unique take on our collective experience. Witnessing the art develop was quite mesmerizing.
My own residency “stillness” inspiration began during the week previous to the residency. My husband and I had traveled to Scotland’s Orkney Islands, home of many neolithic sites that have been protected by the UNESCO World Heritage program. Over 5,000 years old, many of these predate Stonehenge.
Early one morning, before other tourists arrived, we were able to explore the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar all by ourselves. Since these sites do not draw the massive crowds of Stonehenge, visitors are allowed to walk among the monoliths. It was a wholly intimate and quiet experience —- and the essence of stillness.
The sheep was in a deep slumber, and did not register my presence. Except for the power line in the far distance, it was as if we were transported out of our tourist bodies and were now walking back in time. Perfectly quiet. I imagined the thoughts that motivated the massive installation, and contemplated the logistics of creating it…it was one of the most powerful and transformative experiences of my life.
In the residency, I started collecting stones and then creating glass pieces that responded to the stones. Where the stones were solid and substantial and grounded, my response was to create something that would rest on the stones for support — but would itself be light and fragile and full of feminine curves. Here are some of my test pieces.
By the end of the residency, I had fashioned my own installation of stones and glass.
When I returned home, I wanted to continue exploring this idea of responding to stone with glass. I asked several friends whose homes were lost or damaged in the Thomas Fire if I could have some burnt stones from their property, letting them know I wanted to create something with them.
The results were directly inspired by my experience in Scotland. The fired stones were so emotionally evocative, and needed to be either consoled or comforted. My response was to create very light and curvy shapes that would touch —kiss— the stones and perhaps at some point envelop them.
I made several sculptures inspired by the Scotland monoliths.
This love affair with stones and glass has even found a home in our garden.