The studio is buzzing with possibility, hands massaging the wet clay as it spins on the wheel, adding texture and spirit to the once smooth surface. As the clay begins to take shape, another student places a small bubble of molten glass on the end of a four-foot pipe. With the mouth set on the pipe and ready to exhale, it\’s time to breath life into another new creation.
East Lansing galleries are illuminating shelves with ceramic and glass creations of all shapes, sizes and techniques, attracting a large audience of residents and students and forcing them to stop and stare at the shiny figures. However, some local fans of such work are not satisfied as mere onlookers. MSU students interested in molding different materials are offered a receptive environment that encourages them to cultivate their talents and produce works of their own.
Talent on Campus
Brianne Hoffman and Jeff Blandford understand the time that is necessary to produce quality art. The studio art seniors have concentrations in ceramics and plan on turning their passion for the studio into permanent careers. Hoffman is a fan of transfer work and presses Xerox transfers from a copy machine to wet clay. When peeled off, an image is produced because the ink is resistant to stain and water. She said molding each piece of clay in her hands is very therapeutic. As the clay oozes between her fingers, thoughts of childhood creep into her art. \”I\’ve done a lot of video game imagery and a lot of work about how video games and technology affect us in positive and negative ways,\” she said. \”The images I use are mostly from Atari, Pacman and Super Mario Brothers – the games that I grew up with.\”
Blandford experiments with this form, as well as glassblowing. He has worked with ceramics for over five years and with glass for three years, creating mostly vases, tumblers and paperweights. He has rented space in Saugatuck for the past four summers that has served him doubly as both a shop and studio where he works and displays. His work has been sold in galleries in Chicago and Detroit, as well as across the country. He now has set sights on selling in the Tennessee area. \”I do a lot of glasswork but not as much as I would like,\” Blandford said. \”I\’ve sold some pieces and think that glass will be a huge part of my future. I want to open my own studio and be self-employed forever. That would be my dream.\”
Art Under the Sun
Those exhibiting their work at the 44th East Lansing Art Festival this spring will be in a similar position of open possibility. The festival, which provides excellent exposure for rising professionals, will be held downtown May 19 – 20. The Art Festival Board of Directors produces the festival in collaboration with the East Lansing Arts Commission and the City of East Lansing. Booths feature ceramics, glass, jewelry and painting, among others.
For the less-experienced artists still looking to showcase their abilities, the Spring Arts and Crafts Show will take place on campus the same weekend. The University Activities Board organizes the show, which runs separately from the festival each year.
Robert Eikholt, an artist whose studio is based in Columbus, Ohio, is proof that participation in the festival and weekend celebration of the arts can lead to a career of international acclaim. \”I walk through the festival every year, and every year his work is better. He\’s always coming up with new shapes and colors,\” Saper Galleries framing specialist Jennifer Cuthbert said.
Eikholt currently has pieces for sale at Saper Galleries and Custom Framing. His bowls and vases are well-known for their use of precious metals and oxides such as cobalt and copper – a perfect fit for the chic gallery, which contains work done by both local and international artists, from countries like Israel. \”The atmosphere is elegant and upscale. It\’s a very pleasant place to work and is also environmentally-friendly,\” Cuthbert said of the gallery, which began 28 years ago in owner Roy C. Saper\’s house on Bailey Street and later expanded to become the current Albert Avenue location. \”All of our air is filtered and the humidity is controlled,\” she said. \”We recycle everything – including newspapers and boxes. We also save energy by using skylights.\” Preservation of the environment at the gallery demonstrates how art can join forces to help great worldwide causes – an unbeatable combination.
World Exposure
This attitude to promote societal change and responsibility is a theme present at Trillium Gallery as well. Inventory is chosen with great care and supports local and international artists and causes. The gallery is currently displaying glass, wood and ceramic pieces from South America, Central America and Africa. Pieces are especially prevalent from Peru, Mexico and Kenya. Hand-carved ebony wood boxes made in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are provided by MSU students from Africa who send profits back to their families.
Humanitarian efforts are continued with the sale of hand puppets from Peru, which raise money for mothers and daughters to receive proper education in order to become contributing members of communities. [fair]\”We focus on trying to get fair trade art to ensure that artists are paid properly for their work,\” Trillium Gallery owner Kalli Halpern said. \”We have glass from Colombia, and when you get something beautiful and know you\’re giving back, the purchase is a double present.\”
And much of the glasswork can be seen throughout the gallery, shining with different colors when the sunlight hits at the right spot. \”Dichroic beads are very vibrant and look irridescent,\” Halpern said. \”You can see them from a distance and know that something really brilliant is coming toward you.\”
While glass beads and jewelry may be among the most well-known glass creations, connoisseurs know that the options are virtually endless. Glass can be formed into items not only to be worn on the body, but for display in the home or office as well.
Ornaments hang in the windows of the gallery on Division Street and catch the eyes of those walking to class. \”People used to think of them as Christmas balls but they hang them everywhere now. Orbs can hang in the home and are especially peaceful to have in the kitchen when you\’re doing the dishes,\” Halpern said.
Various ornaments are also seen at Mackerel Sky Gallery of Contemporary Craft, as if a fruit basket full of pineapples and berries rains down from above. The boutique is named by owners Tom and Linda Dufelmeier after a cirrus cloud formation that resembles the scales of a mackerel fish, and is considered a good omen if seen over the Atlantic Ocean by sailors and aviators at sunset.
The Ann Street gallery sells a variety of glass pieces by individual artists and small studios from across the country, representing studios such as Callahan Mountain Studios in Arkansas and Fire Island Hot Glass in Texas. Pieces, including globes filled with rainbow bursts and paperweights shaped like sea creatures and hearts, are seen throughout the store.
[lady]Stemware and oil lamps are also featured, along with a wide selection of jewelry. These one-of-a-kind pieces are made using three different techniques – fusion, lampworking and glassblowing.
Glass beads are made when pieces of glass are fused together. Each piece begins clear and is mixed with broken pieces of colored glass. Glassblowing is done in three steps, and begins with molten glass that is manipulated by a process of heating and cooling. Designs can also be made by lampworking, which is done by winding glass around a steel rod called a mandrel. A torch is then used to mold the glass to a desired shape. \”Most glassblowing is hard to do on your own,\” Tom Dufelmeier said. \”You have to blow into the glass at the end of a pipe and at the same time another person will churn it to get a shape.\”
Artists use a furnace named \”the glory hole\” to continually reheat the piece until the preferred shape is achieved. It is then placed into an annealing oven and cooled to perfection. Temperature in the oven is gradually reduced according to size and density. \”A simple bowl without a lot of ornamentation would take 10 to 15 minutes, but it took artist Josh Simpson three months to create a 114-pound paperweight,\” Dufelmeier said.
The artist, who hails from Massachusetts, is always up for a challenge. He is now working on the Infinity Project, in which he buries marble glass balls called \”planets\” in hidden locations all over the world, creating a very unique exhibition of his art in various countries, hoping that more people will happen upon his glasswork.
\”People who find a planet may not be archaeologists. They may know nothing about art or science, they might not be able to afford one of my pieces. I like the idea of reaching a totally new audience for my glass – not just a socially or culturally different audience but potentially people separated by hundreds of years from present time,\” Simpson says on his website,, demonstrating that although an artist may not live forever, their work may leave a legacy.

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