St. Marys Journal Argus
Currently on display — and for sale — at The Flower Shop and More on Queen Street downtown are numerous examples of the striking glass-based artwork by St. Marys resident Karen West.
West says she has always been interested in glass, and even dabbled in stained glass artistic techniques several years ago. But in the spring of 2013, she embarked on a different artistic journey, taking courses in London for the “fusing,” “slumping,” “polishing” and “tacking” of glass.
In general, her work involves the fusing of glass, meaning that whole pieces of glass are taken to a liquid form by being placed in a kiln. She has purchased a small, approximately 16”x16” kiln that can be plugged into a regular electrical outlet at home (although there are other, larger electrical kilns available that require a specialized, dryer-style outlet).
The most pronounced examples of slumping (and the easiest way to show how the process gets its name) that West does are the eye-catching “slumped” wine bottles and beer bottles currently on display at the Queen Street store. Through the process, these are flattened into an elongated bowl or platter shape, but still unquestionably retain their wine bottle form.
She holds up a large square plate, with one quadrant of it featuring the vibrant red, green and black of a watermelon with seeds. “If you feel that, you can see what ‘tacking’ is like. It gives the piece a texture,” West explains.
A slightly smaller piece of flatware features a flower extending from its stem towards the centre of the plate. When you run your finger along this plate, however, it’s smooth. It appears as if the green stem and baby blue flower have been carefully painted.
A few days later, at a special “Skate with Mr. Sproat” event hosted by Little Falls Public School in honour of soon-to-retire Vice Principal Paul Sproat, West — a parent volunteer helping to tie skates — holds up a small piece of glasswork with a decorative ribbon tied around it. “I came up with this yesterday,” she beams, displaying a gift she created in appreciation for the administrator from her kids’ school.
On the clear sushi plate is an intricate depiction, in black, of the Little Falls logo: the Blue Heron. As with the flower plate on display at The Flower Shop and More, it’s smooth — as if the Blue Heron was painted on. But West explains it’s all glass — nothing but glass.
The colour in each case comes from coloured glass in powdered form, manipulated into place on the larger piece of glass, then placed in the kiln to be made permanent.
“On average, each piece takes about 16 hours,” she says. “That’s not just the work with the glass. That also includes the design and the planning.”
She loves to use the powdered glass and create depictions of various types on plates and bowls. Sometimes she creates a stencil for a logo or caricature — such as the logo of the rock band KISS, which she did for a friend; or the characters from animated Hollywood movies, which she put into cereal bowls for her children, ages 10 and 12 — but other times it’s too hard to make a stencil. For the Blue Heron, for example, she had to resort to painstakingly pushing the powdered glass into the required form.
“I like to design my own stuff — things that I think will be challenging and creative,” West comments. And she also loves to do custom work — taking someone else’s idea and being able to turn it into reality.
“It’s all food-safe and dishwasher-safe. You can definitely eat out of it,” she adds, noting that the only material in each piece is glass. She purchases her glass from a company in London which, in turn, acquires its “made-in-the-United States” glass from a supplier south of the border.
“Or you can put them on a shelf and look at them, if you want. But I’d prefer if you use them.”
To see more of West’s work, go online at www.glassygirl.ca, or contact her at 519-284-3471 or firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a time to drop by her workshop.