Martin Kremer discovered glass art at college, though not through an art program or formal lessons, but because one of his housemates got bored with the glass class he was taking and Martin took his friend’s scraps and his hobby and began to learn about glass on his own.
He bought a book on the topic and also began learning from others who worked in the field, one was a third generation glass artist, another taught him soldering, and other artists provided gentle corrections along the way. His experience taught him you can learn a lot when you’re not “spoon-fed,” but have the chance to struggle through the artistic roadblocks and learn what does and doesn’t work.
Kremer’s work began as a hobby, and then grew over time. He had additional good fortune when his wife got a great job offer in the early 80’s, which allowed him time to pursue his art seriously. Shortly afterwards, he started picking up wholesale accounts for his stained glass jewelry boxes, and he got involved with a craft co-op where he learned the arts business, including how to work with galleries. It took time to build, with places ordering 4 to 6 pieces at a time.
“Working with the craft co-op was helpful, and it was also important to get out to smaller retail shows” says Kremer. “But if I were starting today, I’d try to work with Buyer’s Market of American Craft and the American Craft Council Shows which both have mentor programs, since the major gift shows are harder to get into. It’s also good to connect with galleries and catalogue producers.
“Really, you need to get one good client to give you an economic base,” explains Kremer, “though you have to be careful with that because it can be a trap. There are two reasons: the first is that they often want you to do the same things again and again because that’s what they’ve found will sell; and secondly if you come to rely on that income, it’s easy to get lazy and to not explore new things. I advise people not to get in too deep with any one customer, so you can afford to leave when you’re tired of producing the same thing.”
“In my case with the jewelry boxes, I eventually turned the work over to one of my subcontractors, which worked out well. I also found over time that I’ve priced myself out of some markets – so you might find that you move from selling to craft shops to selling through galleries up to selling more expensive commissioned work.
“These days, the economy has made it more difficult for artists, from what I’m hearing from my peers. There’s a shift in the market because of the aging of the craft buyer. A lot of collectors are aging, and people are downsizing, which means they don’t have as much space for art as they used to. Also, kids are not buying big things to live with – so the demand is for more functional things that can sell in the $50, $60, $130 range.
“So, you can plan to cater to that audience, or choose to go the high-end, specialty route, though that’s a difficult market to crack. In my case, I’m doing furniture that combines steel and wood bases with glass on top. These can sell in the $5000-$8000 range for a console or occasional table. I’m finding with these that I enjoy the opportunity to collaborate with other artists on some of the pieces.
“My advice to beginning artists is to make the art that resonates with you. If you try to create for the market, it’s very hit or miss. Then take samples or models of your work around to decorators, architects and others who can recommend you to show what you can do. It may not be easy to do the legwork, but good work does come out in the long run.
“Local art centers can be a good place to start educating yourself because they’ll have beginner classes where you can learn – often how to fuse glass, because that’s easier, but also how to blow glass. Stained glass used to be in vogue, since it’s an easy entry point, but it can be limiting.
“There are also a handful of good schools that specialize in this area: Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, Arrowmont in Tennessee, and the Pilchuck glass school in Washington State. Another good place to learn more is on the Warm Glass website, which is also connected to a studio that offers classes.
Martin Kremer is an award-winning artist who has studied blown and fused glass at the Penland School of Crafts, at Urbanglass in Brooklyn, NY and at the Corning Museum of Glass Studio in Corning, New York.
He started fusing by translating pattern to glass, with inspiration from Native American fabrics, Venetian tiles and marquetry patterns. That work led to the Ventana series of vessels, studies in contrasts: opacity/transparency, matte/glossy, all played out on a vividly colored palette. That series has recently taken a sculptural turn in the direction of walls, Paredes, and other structures incorporating fused glass with the same contrasts but with the addition of an architectural tension between free-standing pieces. They might be seen as models for large public monuments.