Material Reality: Anna Boothe

How did you start working with glass? What drew you to this medium?

I began taking classes and working with glass when I was a sculpture major at Rhode Island School of Design in the late ’70s. My studio was located adjacent to the school’s infamous Glass Program, then headed by Dale Chihuly. The material became a mysterious wonderment for me, as I witnessed cutting-edge, significant works being created by now-coffee-table name glass artists, who were then graduate students. At the time, the Studio Glass Art Movement was still in its formative years. Then, most glass artists were enamored with blowing, but few were exploring what could be done with the material in the kiln. Since I enjoyed working sculpturally with a variety of non-glass materials (clay, wax, bread, wire) and various molding processes, I was particularly drawn to works that were being created by fusing small glass particles in molds—a technique known as pate de verre, that I later embraced, have researched extensively and continue to employ as my primary studio process.

How does your material inspire your process?

In graduate school in the mid ’80s, my early casting experiments were many, rich with tons of technical glitches because I was exploring still relatively new territory. Much of my experimentation referenced my concurrent vocation as a pastry chef and cake sculptor/illustrator. I drew from the many similarities between baking and glass casting, such as making my work in a heated chamber (oven/kiln) with colorful particulates (sugar/glass) to create temporary or permanent objects. Overall, through the learning curve, I garnered great respect for a material that is technically complex, how to cultivate patience and to enjoy the advancement that comes with perceived failure. Happily, the curve continues…

Tell us about any challenges associated with and special considerations for working with glass.

The specific challenges I encounter concern the multitude of variables involved in the kiln-casting process. The steps are many, and the time to realize a simple finished object is days long at minimum and easily can extend to months. A truncated process sequence includes 1)hand-carving a form in wax to be transposed into glass; 2) the creation of a rubber mold around the wax (to preserve the original and create cast wax multiples); 3) fabrication of a refractory (heat-resistant) mold around the wax casting; 4) removal of the wax by steaming; 5) selective filling of the resulting mold cavity with multi-colored/sized glass particles; 6) precise melting and cooling of the molded glass particles in a kiln; 7) removal of the one-use mold material from the solidified glass object; 8) grinding and polishing the finished form with the use of various diamond abrasive machinery and hand tools. With a comparable skill level required to execute glass objects created via other methods, glass casting is one of the more arduous time-takers. 

What has surprised you about your own work, and/or people's reactions to it?

I find that because glass works created via the kiln-casting process are generally not shiny transmitters of light, but instead translucent and capable of holding light so as to appear to glow, that most of the viewers and collectors of my work respond with a bit more curiosity or surprise than they would to glass made by more familiar processes like blowing or stained glass. I enjoy my role as an artist—particularly informing and sharing my process with others.

 

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