Nina Falk, Musician and Glass Artist
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 Seminary. For more information, visit www.ninafalkglass.com.