Pitch Perfect Music and Glass Art

Nina Falk, Musician and Glass Artist

13 Nina Falk art

1. When did you start working in glass?

In 2003 I started working in glass, as a result of attending a show at the Glen Echo Park in Maryland. I saw a beautiful bowl, made by Zayde Sleph, and bought it. Shortly after, I learned that he taught there, and that he and his wife taught many of the glass artists in the area. Not only that, I learned, to my happy surprise, that there is a thriving community of glass artists in the Washington, DC area. This rich community gave me many opportunities to study more, and before long, to exhibit publicly.

2. What brought you there from music?

 I am still a performing musician. It is not unusual for a person to be drawn to more than one form of artistic expression. The sense of hearing and sight are closely aligned because of the vibrations they each create. The longtime concertmaster of the National Symphony, William Steck, took up quilting after his retirement and made gorgeous pieces.

For me, a passion for both art and music were present since childhood. I was blessed to have parents who were attentive to notice my interests and to provide me with opportunities to develop them. When I was eight I began to feel very serious about music, and studied at the Juilliard Preparatory Division with a teacher I adored, who nurtured my love for music. When I went to the Oberlin Conservatory, I was very committed to my life as a musician, but I took classes in sculpture and printmaking. In graduate school I made time to study weaving and bought a four-harness loom. I was a Fulbright scholar in London and Rome, where I studied violin-making. I loved working with my hands, but found that violin-making was not as creative as I wanted to be. It was illuminating to learn how the instrument was made, that I spent so many hours with as a player. Until I found glass, I found different avenues for creative expression in visual forms, but never focused on one in particular. Once I fell in love with glass, which happened almost immediately, I pursued it with the same intensity of purpose that is required for a musician to develop. I went to workshop after workshop, bought my own kiln, bought a second kiln, began to enter shows. I exhibited at the American Craft Council Show in Baltimore, the Washington Craft Show, the Northern Virginia Craft Festival, The Buyers’ Market for American Craft, and the Glen Echo show that had lit the fire to pursue glass.

Since I chose kiln-formed glass, it was not that difficult to maintain my musical life along with the glass work. Once you load the kiln, there is usually around 24 hours before the complete cycle is back to room temperature, depending on what process you are doing. During that time, I am able to practice the violin, rehearse, and play concerts.

3. How do you see the connection between the two areas of art for your work?

The inspiration for my work is in the oneness of all life, whether you see this as a secular or sacred phenomenon. This is seen in both art and music, and especially in nature. Since I am not a composer of music, usually the music inspires the art, rather than the art inspiring the music. But there are patterns that can be noticed in both, such as repetition, contrast, flow, and different forms…these exist in art, music, and nature. Unlike literature, much of the music I play is abstract, so the opportunities for inspiration are limitless.

4. What were some of the challenges starting to work in glass?

Besides needing to learn how to use the material, in terms of technique, including how much heat, how little, how long…there are many possibilities to consider. I am fortunate to be working in glass at a time when there is a lot of information out there that is shared by artists who came before me, as well as local colleagues. However, one challenge I think that affects all glass artists is that it is easy to get distracted by technical issues—the “how”—rather than “what” and “why”. It is very important for an artist to be true to his/her imagination, to develop it, and to listen to what is speaking inside, and not abandon that pursuit in the cause of technical skills. This is an issue, of course, in music performance, that many musicians are aware of. Virtuosity for its own sake does not hold interest over time. It is important for glass artists to stay true to whatever vision animates their work, and not let technical concerns be the driver of the piece.

5. What’s a typical day like?

It all depends on what stage I am at, in the development of a piece. It starts with an idea, or a client’s idea, and moves to a sketch, and then to tests, and finally to actually producing the piece. That production phase involves lay-up of the design elements, and multiple firings. For my tree pieces, it means creating the wood elements and working out how they will interact with the glass. For the large undulating wall pieces, after the series of firings, it means adding the installation hardware. The most exciting phase is the actual creation of the work, because it is such a pleasure to see your idea come to fruition.

7. How do you handle marketing?

Like many artists, I am sometimes introverted and not comfortable selling my own work. I am fortunate to have found a marketing assistant who has helped me with all aspects of selling, including pricing, and most important, getting my work seen. She sends e-mail blasts periodically to designers, galleries, art consultants. Sometimes I place an ad in one of the better craft magazines, which are often made available at shows as well as in bookstores and subscriptions.

8. How much time do you spend on exhibiting and on the business of promoting your work?

Because of my assistant, I spend only a small portion of my time exhibiting and promoting. Last year, I did a show with two colleagues in a cooperative gallery, and plan to do another in about a year. That will take a lot of time and energy, but it’s a great incentive to get new work accomplished, and I am eager to work on new tree ideas and new and larger wall pieces.

9. What tips do you have for others, organizations you’ve found useful, courses?

Even though the economy hasn’t recovered fully, it is good to do some shows, especially if you are starting out. You learn so much from other artists, and there is nothing that can replace the information you get from observing people notice your work. You get to see what gets the most reaction, the least, where they linger. It is important not to isolate yourself too much in the studio. And as I mentioned earlier, the Washington area glass guild is a fantastic community. Join whatever guild is near you, and connect with other artists. I also benefitted a great deal from taking courses (in design, for example) from non-glass artists. This strengthened my understanding of design basics and helped me to separate the artistic issues from the technical ones.

Nina Falk approaches her glasswork as a visual expression of the rhythms, patterns, and lyricism of both music and nature. The artist studied violin, sculpture, and printmaking at the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio and won a Fulbright Fellowship to explore violin making in Europe. She studied kiln-formed glass at the Corning Museum of Glass and at the Pilchuck School. She is a founding member of the Arcovoce Chamber Ensemble. She was artist-in-residence at the Wesley Theological SeminaryEnhanced by Zemanta. For more information, visit www.ninafalkglass.com.

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Glass Art and Business: Artist Martin Kremer

13 Martin Kremer art

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.

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