CP: Why do you like glass?
KR: Glass is a magical, magical, magical medium. Never a liquid or a solid, glass is always in between those two states of matter. Through heat, you can control its characteristics. I believe that there are endless possibilities in glass as a creative medium. It is a wonderful combination of “science meets art.” The way you see glass is all about the light.
CP: What made made you want to be a glass artist?
KR: I was into many crafts and I especially loved quilting – piecing things together. For Valentine’s Day in 1981, my husband gave me a pair of grozing pliers and a glass cutter and encouraged me to try glass. Working with glass filled my soul, so I started my love affair with cold glass techniques (like stained glass) etched under 1000 degrees.
From there I wanted to try it all, so I learned warm glass techniques (like fusing, fritting, and ground glass) and plastic glass which is glass at a temperature above 1650 degrees (like beading). Now I have been working and teaching glass for over 30 years. My studio out of Huntsville, AL is Earthstar Glass.
CP: What inspires you?
KR: Creative challenges. I take inspiration from other media, like oil painting, watercolor, pastels, quilting, and think: “I would like to figure that out in glass.”
I also take technique driven inspiration from different cultures around the world, I get lost in a subject. For example, I look at Balinese Folk Art and wonder “how can I make that in glass?”
CP: Functional or Decorative?
KR: It’s a balance. As an independent studio we need to do functional work and custom pieces to fund our other more conceptual and creative pieces. My creative work is what goes in the galleries, the functional and smaller-sized work pays the bills. Small will sell better, but I love doing the big pieces.
CP: Who is your favorite glass artist?
KR: Harry Clarke (1889 -1931) a master of stained glass from Ireland.
CP: What’s the most meaningful piece you’ve ever made?
KR: The 57 fused glass panels for the chapel in Madison, AL. In 2012, I was commissioned by three siblings to create an installation piece in a hospital chapel to commemorate their parents. Because of a lead ban, you cannot put lead in a hospital, so the siblings had a hard time finding an artist to hire. I have been fusing glass over 25 years and was honored and delighted to be able to work on such a commission. I loved every second of it! They wanted something soothing, non-denominational and artistic with nature as a theme – a place of retreat for everyone to enjoy.
CP: I heard you made a Christmas decoration for the White House. What did you make?
KR: It was an angel – a Christmas tree ornament for the Clintons.
CP: Favorite Cathedral?
KR: The National Cathedral in Washington in definitely a must see.
CP: Favorite style or motif?
KR: As far as style, I follow the breeze. I am always researching and very inquisitive. I love to refer to watercolor and pastel for inspiration. Some bodies of my work include themes and style references as diverse as Bargello needlework, African Baule masks, traditional glass painting, nature, perceptions & memories, goddesses, mandala painting, and more.
CP: How long have you been teaching at the Folk School?
KR: This is my 13th year teaching here at the Folk School. I started when Jackie Spencer was the resident artist. I believe I was the first person to teach warm glass.
CP: What is “open work” stained glass?
KR: When most people think of stained glass, they think of a panel where every piece of glass ‘fits’ to all of the surrounding pieces of glass. Not so with ‘Open Work”! There are open areas, spaces which contain no glass. It is the first step toward working sculpturally in glass. It is great fun especially for someone new to glass.
CP: What do you like about the Folk School?
KR: There are so many beautiful people here sharing an atmosphere of positive creativity. People are supportive and wonderful – I believe the Folk School Should be the model for the world.
For more info about Karen, visit her website, Earthstar Glass.
Karen’s Upcoming Classes at the Folk School include:
The Magic of Stained-Glass Open Work, Oct 27 – Nov 2, 2013 and June 8 – 14, 2014 (two date options!)
If you love stained glass, but don’t love the tedious fitting of the glass pieces, this class is for you. Learn the basics of open work, and then apply that knowledge in laminations, overlays, and three-dimensional construction. So many design possibilities await! Beginning to intermediate students are welcome; some glass-cutting experience is helpful.
Fusing “Wright,” Inspired by Frank Lloyd, Feb 23 – 28, 2014 (A Salute to the Arts and Crafts Movement Week)
The clean, timeless style of Frank Lloyd Wright lends itself beautifully to the fused-glass panel. Design and create your own classic in a class that reveals the magic of kiln-fired glass to beginners. No lead, no solder…just the radiant beauty of glass! Special instruction will be given to cutting glass with accuracy. Some prior glass-cutting experience is helpful (but not necessary), and good hand strength is needed.
Cory Marie Podielski is a freelance graphic designer, photographer, and writer for the John C. Campbell Folk School. She has been writing for the Folk School Blog since 2012 and enjoys interviewing artists, musicians, and craftspeople. In her spare time, she enjoys playing the banjo, dancing, printmaking, playing in clay, and assisting in Folk School bread baking classes. podielski.com
I love hearing the narrative voice of a visual artist mind.
Karen – you are so creative, willing to help others, and talented. I am so glad to have learned of this super work you are doing with the Folk School (first I have heard of it). I know your work, your love of glass and your desire and willingness to help others in workshops and classes. You are super and it is a great privilege to know you – thank you for your friendship.