The instructor holds up a pane of glass to the window and colors dance all over the studio. The class lets out a collective “ahh,” and a new class in glass fusing is under way.
Teresa Kowalski is the instructor, a glass artist who freely shares her dedication and love of the art form with her students. She gives them the basic facts and then turns them free to explore.
Kowalski, who has more than 20 years’ experience at her art, comments on her theory of glass art: “I don’t try to pre-think a piece. Leaving it to the unconscious, ideas and designs can come from the intuitive, subconscious level. Something that comes from deep within you brings resonance with others.”
Her studio in Newport is an invitation to the imagination. Sheets of glass in all colors, bowls of small glass pieces, cabochons, stringers, and frits (crushed glass) stand ready for the class. Worktables are spacious and amply stocked. Many of Kowalski’s students fall in love with glass fusing and continually sign up for classes. Six or seven have shown exceptional skill, producing advanced pieces of art. No one who takes a class goes home empty-handed. New students usually produce a tile or plate in the first class. In a series of four classes, students can work on three or four projects or one advanced piece. Whatever the mind conceives, Kowalski helps the students achieve.
The art pieces take two trips through the kilns. The first firing is the actual glass fusing. The second trip places the glass in a form for creating the finished product. The end results can be bowls, vases, platters, wall pieces, wind chimes, or something unique. Kowalski is in charge of the firings, and many a midnight has found her still in the studio juggling pieces from one kiln to another.
Kowalski’s birthplace is the Midwest, where she grew up with eight siblings. Her mother was an artist, so the family often discussed art in its many forms. It took a trip to Europe in the 1970s, however, to ignite her love for glass. She was fascinated with the beauty and clarity of the glass she saw produced in Germany. Upon returning home, she enrolled in the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle. This school was founded by the world-famous Dale Chihuly. She took more classes in the Camp Colton Glass Program near Portland.
Kowalski opened her own studio in Newport in 1980, and it has been busy ever since. As soon as she introduced her studio with a Web site, she drew inquiries and students from all over the United States. She keeps her class size small, though, so everyone has a good experience. She has taught fusion workshops for the past four years at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology in Neskowin, and she holds workshops for children in Newport.
Teaching is just one phase of Kowalski’s career. She has designed and produced glass art for the Oregon Coast Aquarium, Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, and Glacier Bay Lodge in Alaska. Commissioned works adorn homes in California, Washington, and Oregon.
Her work can be viewed at Breach the Moon in Newport, Windermere Gallery in Seal Rock; On the Edge Gallery in La Conner, Washington; Panache Gallery in Mendocino, California; The Max Gallery in Tuscon, Arizona; and Shoreline Gallery in Austin, Texas.
Between classes, she is busy creating new works. Kowalski’s latest studio addition is a crucible kiln she uses to produce vitrigraphs, a method by which glass is produced in strings in various dimensions.
The concept is so new that Kowalski called on her brother, Tom Kowalski, for his technical skills. Tom is an environmental test specialist with Boeing in Seattle and likes to collaborate with his sister.
The venture required redesigning an ordinary kiln in which the glass is heated to liquid and hot strings of glass emerge through the bottom of the kiln. These hot strings can be straightened or curved, giving the designer a painter’s sensitivity and range. Kowalski is very proud of this new addition and holds classes to teach the technique.
The next time a color speaks to you and ignites your imagination, consider putting it to glass. It can be a spellbinding experience.
Oregon Coast July/August 2007