in the studio with sylvie rosenthal

If you lose your wallet, you hope someone thoughtful will find it for you…and if you’re in luck, that someone might by Sylvie Rosenthal.

Last winter, an Artful Home employee dropped her wallet in a snowbank and considered it gone for good. Little did she know that it would be found by an artist whose work she knew well. Because of their shared connection with Artful Home, Sylvie Rosenthal was able to locate the wallet’s rightful owner and return it to her without a penny misplaced.

This serendipitous occurrence is certainly a “small world” moment; it also reveals a bit of Sylvie’s character, though it tells you nothing about her vast creativity and expertise as a sculptor and woodworker. For that, you have only to step into her studio or learn a bit about her personal history. We were excited to have the opportunity to do just that on a recent spring afternoon, when Sylvie invited us into her Madison, Wisconsin, studio to have a look around.

Sylvie Rosenthal in her studio.

Sylvie Rosenthal in her studio.

Sylvie has been making things since the age of 5. Growing up, she spent a lot of time at the Eli Whitney Museum in New Haven, Connecticut, a hands-on, experimental children’s museum that nurtured her creativity and inventiveness. She worked there from third grade to eleventh, and admits that she sometimes went there instead of school. She has a continued relationship with the museum, teaching classes to kids in the summer and donating artwork to an annual fundraiser.

The museum’s emphasis on experimentation, risk-taking, and creativity left a lasting influence on Sylvie. She not only gained countless skills that she still uses today, but also learned that her talent for making things was valuable—even employable. This is part of the reason that working for herself was never a question—that, and the fact that both of her parents were self-employed while she was growing up.

Out to See, from the artist's "Animals and Architecture" series.

Out to See, from the artist’s “Animals and Architecture” series.

Sylvie went on to receive a BFA from the Rochester Institute of Technology, which instilled in her a dedication to craftsmanship. She has since studied and worked with many prominent woodworkers, and recently earned an MFA in sculpture from the University of Wisconsin.

Equilibrium Balance II, an interactive kinetic sculpture.

Equilibrium Balance II, an interactive kinetic sculpture.

Sylvie creates both 3-D and 2-D work, including this sculpture and photographic print.

Sylvie creates both 3-D and 2-D work, including this sculpture and photographic print.

Sylvie Rosenthal has a rich, multifaceted artistic practice. She creates imaginative furniture and mirrors with a hint of the unexpected. She crafts fascinating, technically complex sculpture, often with kinetic elements. She even builds custom cabinetry and experiments with photography. Among her many works of art, there is one piece that is especially beloved by Artful Home customers: the Birdie Mirror.

Sylvie Rosenthal's well-loved Birdie Mirror.

Sylvie Rosenthal’s well-loved Birdie Mirror.

This popular mirror was not originally intended for sale; rather, it was created as a meaningful gift. When her sister’s best friend and husband were expecting twins, Sylvie was asked to design a special mirror for them in celebration. She decided to create not one mirror but three: a large one for the parents, and a smaller one for each daughter, which they could hang up in their rooms as children and take with them once they were grown up. The four birds on each mirror represented the four family members. Needless to say, the new parents were thrilled with the heartfelt, heirloom-quality gifts.

Sometimes, a work of art takes on a life of its own—and Sylvie soon discovered that the Birdie Mirror had broad appeal. Now that she offers them at Artful Home, they have been featured in a number of catalogs and found their way into many delighted customers’ homes.

Wood birds await further carving and detailing.

Wood birds await further carving and detailing.

The first trio of mirrors was a labor of love, and every subsequent mirror requires just as much painstaking attention to detail. Each basswood bird is carved, sanded, and painted by hand, then individually fit to its own branch. The cherry wood frames were originally cut by hand using a router and band saw, but Sylvie now works with a local CNC router to achieve smoother, more even cuts. Once the pieces are cut, Sylvie carefully assembles, sands, and finishes them. At every step of the process, Sylvie takes care to ensure that the piece is well constructed and built to last.

The artist constructs the frame of a Birdie Mirror.

The artist constructs the frame of a Birdie Mirror.

What’s next for Sylvie? She tells us that she is currently fine-tuning aspects of her art business and developing concepts for a new line of home decor (stay tuned!). She hopes to ramp up this area of her business while maintaining her sculpture practice. Doing so may require some additional hands in the studio. Currently, she does nearly everything herself, only contracting assistants for particularly busy times (this is actually somewhat unusual in the area of woodworking). If her business increases, she may need regular help—and she hopes to be at that point sometime soon.

Sylvie Rosenthal shows us a series of new bud vases she has created.

Sylvie Rosenthal shows us a series of new bud vases she has created.

We love Sylvie Rosenthal’s work and have an even greater appreciation for her incredible range of skills and ideas after visiting her studio. We are excited to see her business continue to grow and thrive!

By |May 27th, 2016|spotlights|0 Comments

10 teapots infused with creativity

Whether you’re a tea aficionado looking to serve up your daily “Earl Gray” with a splash of personality or an art lover hoping to add some new flavors to your collection, you’ll find plenty to savor in the world of artist-made teapots.

Teapots have been around for hundreds of years, having originated in China and then spread throughout Asia, Europe, and beyond. The history of teapots is steeped in a fascinating potpourri of social customs, culinary tastes, and cultural aesthetics of people across the globe. This rich history gives artists plenty of inspiration to draw from as they create their own variations of this storied vessel.

Here are ten remarkably creative teapots from our collection—everything from beautiful reinterpretations of classic forms to surprising shapes that defy the imagination.

Teapots53_RonMello Edits

Boasting elegant curves adorned with a rich, iron red glaze, Teapot #53 by Ron Mello is a striking example of the artist’s interest in ancient forms and traditional ceramic techniques.

BasketHandled_SuzanneCrane Edits

Suzanne Crane’s botanical inspiration is fully evident in her Basket-Handled Teapot with Red Berries, which pairs impressions from real plants with a dramatically vining handle.

ZoeyTeapot_MaryObodzinski Edits

Mary Obodzinski plays with proportion and texture in her out-of-the-ordinary teapots. A repeating floral pattern enlivens the dramatic, flattened silhouette of her Zoey Teapot.

Blackline_VaughanNelson Edits

Who says teapots have to be round? Vaughan Nelson’s hand-built Blackline Teapot is a celebration of playful pattern in an unexpected geometric shape.

DrivingTeapot_LilachLotan

And while we’re at it, who says teapots have to be, well, vessel-shaped? The arched form of Driving Teapot in Charcoal by Lilach Lotan is a whimsical (and functional) surprise.

SupermodelTeapot_CarolTM Edits

Supermodel Teapot by Carol Tripp Martens is an abstracted form that may not immediately register as a teapot. Its curvaceous form suggests the organic shapes of the human figure—and yes, it can actually pour!

BlackDragonTea_NancyAdams Edits

A water-pouring vessel is transformed into a fire-breathing dragon in this piece by Nancy Y. Adams. More sculptural than functional, Black Dragon Tea II uses the teapot as a starting point to celebrate the grandeur of this fantastical creature.

DancingShiva_MichaelTorre

Dancing Shiva by Michael Torre pushes the the teapot into purely sculptural territory. Created from unglazed red clay, it is not intended to be functional, but its designation as a teapot makes its flowing shape even more fascinating.

WildTeapot_Owen Edits

Sometimes, a sense of humor adds the perfect touch of whimsy and creativity to a piece. Such is the case with Riding the Wild Teapot, a petite metal teapot by Mary Ann and Malcolm Owen.

SnakeAteTeapot_SylvieRosenthal Edits

Likewise, The Snake that Ate the Teapot 2 by Sylvie Rosenthal uses the form of a teapot for a surprising (and humorous) effect. Hand-carved in wood, this intricate piece is meant to be displayed as a sculpture rather than filled with your favorite oolong.

From sculpture to utilitarian vessels, these ten pieces illustrate some of the ways artists explore and experiment with the classic teapot, transforming it into something fully their own. And whether you’re a tea aficionado, an art collector, or both, the world of artist-made teapots is brimming with extraordinary pieces to dazzle your senses.

By |May 24th, 2016|articles|0 Comments

small enchantments in glass

In his delicious category-defying book, Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the Dawn of the Modern Woman, author Sam Wasson recounts the arranged meeting of two literary stars. Paris, 1948: Truman Capote was ushered by Jean Cocteau into the Palais Royal apartment of Colette. The French grande dame of literature, author of Gigi and many other succes de scandales, was nearing 80. Capote was a fresh-faced 23, basking in the glow of his own first success, the (also scandalous) Other Voices, Other Rooms. They barely spoke each other’s language, but a strong connection was clear:

After the tea was served, the room got warmer, and Colette opened Truman’s twenty-three-year-old hand. In it she placed a crystal paperweight with a white rose at its center. “What does it remind you of?” she asked. “What images occur to you?”

Truman turned it around in his hand. “Young girls in their communion dresses,” he said.

The remark pleased Colette. “Very charming,” she said. “Very apt. Now I can see what Jean told me is true. He said, ‘Don’t be fooled, my dear. He looks like a ten-year-old angel. But he’s ageless, and has a very wicked mind.’ ” She gave it to him, a souvenir.

(Sam Wasson, Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the Dawn of the Modern Woman, HarperCollins:2010).

Capote kept that white rose paperweight with him wherever he lived. And not for its utility. It was a memento of his meeting with Colette: an allusive conjuring of the past he could hold in his hand. He collected paperweights for the rest of his life and carried those he liked the most with him in a small black bag.

While glass as a utilitarian and art medium dates back to a least 2500 B.C., the first signed paperweight is rather new: it can be traced back to 1845 and Pietro Bigaglia’s signed weights for the Vienna Industrial Exposition. A few years later in 1851, paperweights showed up in the Great Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations in London’s Crystal Palace. This exhibition was intended to showcase innovations of artists from “All Nations.” One of the New Things was the paperweight. This huge event, as well as subsequent world fairs, served to introduce paperweights to the world.

Certainly there was a utilitarian aspect to this new object: letter writing had become all the rage in Victorian England. A daily epistolary habit required desk tools beyond pen and stationery: something to keep lightweight loose letter pages neatly in place in drafty houses. A heavy glass sphere did the trick. All the better if it was attractive or commemorated something—such as a coronation of Queen Victoria.  Paperweights sold well: they were trending!

Though the first primitive glass paperweights made in Venice were often rough spheres incorporating end-of-the-day colored detritus at the glassworks, French, English, and Bohemian glassworks quickly became known for their extremely well-executed and beautiful paperweights. Especially in France, 1845-1860 marks the “classic” period” of paperweight making. The production of exquisite paperweights became part of an attempt to revive the country’s depressed glass industry. Consequently, four company names are associated with this revival: Saint Louis, Baccarat, Clichy, and Pantin. Their designers and artisans developed prodigious virtuosity in ancient glassworking techniques.

“Antique” paperweights are from this “classic period.” The “American Classic Period” of paperweight making stretches from 1852 to 1870, continuing after the excitement had declined a bit in Europe. The “modern period” of paperweights begins around 1950 and extends to the present. In the early 1960s, the Studio Glass movement began in the United States as glassmakers moved from factories to studios. Glass work in studios shifted from the utilitarian to the aesthetic: to art glass. The range of ancient and innovative techniques and processes used to create glass paperweights today is wide and varied.

While the name with its lowly intention remains, the paperweight quickly broke free of the realm of utility and became, instead, the showcase for the most magnificent and refined examples of glassmakers’ workmanship. Most paperweights are never “put to work.” They are small enchantments in glass: extraordinary design and craftsmanship revealed.

Millefiore detail image on a paperweight.

 The products of the ancient glass techniques of canework and lampwork are fascinating to see. Canework calls for the stretching of colored glass into long thin straws that are cooled and then cut into smaller pieces. The artist uses them to create colors and shapes in a larger glass project: it’s the creation of the “crayons” the artist uses. Rods of many colors can be pulled together to create multi-colored canes. These are cut into thin slices that resemble flowers and are placed in the work.  This technique is called millefiore (“thousand flowers” in Italian).

Many paperweight artists in Artful Home use millefiore in their artwork. Michael Egan builds undersea reefs. Shawn Messenger is known for her lovely flower-filled heart-shaped weights. David Lindsay, Paul Harrie, and Ken and Ingrid Hanson all employ straight canework or millefiore, though their works are diverse.

Lampwork is very different. “Lamp” refers to the torch the artist uses to keep bits of colored glass molten as an object takes shape. That object could be a flower or butterfly—most traditionally—but also a salamander or, for example,  Clinton Smith’s poison dart frogs. Extraordinary realism can be achieved with lampwork, and many artists are virtuosos in representing flora and fauna. More lampwork can be seen in the work of Jeremy Sinkus, Aaron Slater, Richard Satava, and Mayauel Ward.

Glass artist Aaron Slater using a torch to create details in a paperweight.

Aaron Slater using a torch to work with glass.

Some artists use lampwork to create small free-standing sculptures without the glass englobement. Jennifer Umphress builds charming sculptures of sea creatures. The trio of Richardson, Tarducci, and Underwood create lampwork sailboats and other sculptures. Eric Bailey’s lovely tree frogs, snails, and lizards are all lampworked pieces. (Truman Capote’s first paperweight from Colette was a lampworked white rose in a crystal sphere.)

Beyond these traditional techniques, some artists apply gold leaf to the hot glass for the delicate lacy pattern that forms on the surface. The work is then encased in another layer of glass.  Robert Burch’s heart paperweights showcase this method.

Paperweight collecting is popular: many people have found it enjoyable and even addictive—an addiction that’s not unhealthy! There are many paperweights out in the world in every price range, and unlike so many other forms of art, they require no special upkeep or storage conditions. There are three large collections of paperweights in the United States: at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York, the Arthur Rubloff Collection of Paperweights at the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum in Neenah, Wisconsin. All three are very popular destinations.

Many famous people have become paperweight collectors, including Oscar Wilde, Queen Victoria, King Farouk of Egypt, actor Andy Griffith, former President Bill Clinton, director John Landis, and astronaut Alan Shepard. Most collectors share Truman Capote’s feeling that paperweights are like “some fragment of a dream.”

 

Sources for this article:

By |May 16th, 2016|articles|0 Comments

In the Studio with Kelly Jean Ohl

We love being able to see our favorite artwork up close—even better when we get to meet the incredible artists who create it! So when we had an opportunity to visit ceramic artist Kelly Jean Ohl in her home studio near our Madison, WI office, we were thrilled.

Kelly Jean Ohl in her studio.

A variety of Ohl's artwork.

A variety of Ohl’s artwork.

Ohl has been selling her work through Artful Home for about five years, and she is truly an Artful Home success story. Before selling with us, she drove to art fairs almost every weekend—a grueling cycle that many artists know well. Since working with Artful Home, she has become “art fair free,” able to make a steady income while spending more time in her studio rather than on the road.

When we arrived at Ohl’s house, we immediately knew we were at the right place: a variety of her small “specimen” sculptures were scattered throughout her garden and nestled on her front porch like found treasures.

Ohl's sculpture decorates her front porch.

Ohl’s sculpture decorates her front porch.

After greeting us with genuine enthusiasm, Kelly Jean led us into her spacious yet cozy basement studio, an inviting space with lots of sunlight. A table with coffee and cookies was waiting for us, complete with an improvised trivet made of her sculptural “stick” forms.

Who knew that wall sculpture could double as an attractive trivet?

Who knew that wall sculpture could double as an attractive trivet?

Once we had served ourselves some treats, Kelly Jean took us on a tour of her studio and began telling us about her background, techniques, and inspiration.

It all started in college. While a theater student at Minnesota State University, she decided to pursue art in addition to acting, thinking, “If I can’t be an actress, I want to be an artist.” She took ceramic classes in the art department while also working in the theater costume shop, where she fell in love with textiles and fabrics.

She then attended grad school for art, first receiving an MA from Minnesota State University, and then an MFA from the University of Michigan. She also happened to be a new mom, but readily dove into the challenges of juggling motherhood, school, and a teaching assistantship at the same time, learning a lot from the experience.

At the University of Michigan, she had to move her studio five times in two years—an exhausting process for a ceramic artist. She had been making large, organic sculptures like the one below, but after so many moves, she decided to try something different. She started creating an abundance of small, individual components that could be used to fill space, whether a wall, floor, or table. This shift proved to be quite fruitful, leading to the “specimen” pieces that she continues to make today.

An example of Ohl's early sculptural work.

An example of Ohl’s early sculptural work.

In grad school, Ohl shifted her focus from large sculpture to small "specimens" sculptures.

In grad school, Ohl shifted her focus from large sculpture to small “specimens” sculptures.

While in grad school, her grandmother passed away. Among the things her family inherited were her grandmother’s supplies for making lefse, a traditional Norwegian flatbread, including a lefse rolling pin.

The artist's collection of rolling pins, including her grandmother's lefse rolling pin (the one with red handles).

The artist’s collection of rolling pins, including her grandmother’s lefse rolling pin (the one with red handles).

Kelly Jean really needed a rolling pin in her studio, and since money was tight, she figured she could just put the grooved lefse pin on the lathe in the school’s woodshop to remove the texture. But then, she wondered: what would that texture do to clay? Curious, she brought the rolling pin to the studio, and discovered that its grooved surface created a beautiful ridged texture. The rolling pin was saved, and Kelly Jean’s interest in texture continued to grow.

A piece with the distinctive ridges of the lefse rolling pin (upper left).

A piece with the distinctive ridges of the lefse rolling pin (upper right).

After this discovery, she started to wonder what else she could use to create texture. She looked through other items that had belonged to her grandmother and experimented with them in the studio: a garlic press, a meat tenderizer, tatted lace, crochet work, even the cheesecloth her grandmother used for making jelly.

A plate textured with cheesecloth from Ohl's grandmother's kitchen.

A plate textured with cheesecloth from Ohl’s grandmother’s kitchen.

Today, Ohl continues to explore texture in clay using her extensive collection of vintage textiles, rolling pins, and other intriguing objects.

Part of the artist's collection of vintage lace.

Part of the artist’s collection of vintage lace.

Plates textured using a variety of objects, including vintage lace.

Plates textured using a variety of objects, including vintage lace.

Ohl puts an incredible amount of detail and care into each piece she creates. After building the forms in clay and impressing them with the desired texture, she uses dental tools to further carve and define the design. This kind of intricate (Ohl calls it “obsessive”) carving isn’t for everyone; in fact, she’s had studio assistants try it once, then tell her they never want to do it again! But she absolutely loves it.

Ohl describes her carving process to us.

Ohl describes her carving process to us.

After carving the details, she burnishes the surface by hand and later sands each piece for a smooth finish. Each piece is bisque fired in the kiln, then brushed with colorants called oxides before undergoing a second firing at a high temperature.

Ohl stands next to one of her kilns.

Ohl stands next to one of her kilns.

After the second firing, the work is fully vitrified, which happens to make it food and dishwasher safe—good to know if one of Ohl’s plates is your child’s favorite dish for eating macaroni and cheese (true story).

Ohl's plates and bowls are functional—and they pair beautifully with natural treasures like fossils.

Ohl’s plates and bowls are functional—and they pair beautifully with natural treasures like fossils.

Ohl is well-known for her large wall installations, which are comprised of dozens of hand-built and -carved forms. One of the things that makes these sculptures unique is that the components are not physically connected to one another. They are intended to be hung individually on the wall in a specific composition, covering the wall with rhythm and texture.

"Domestic Markings" by Kelly Jean Ohl is comprised of 43 individual pieces

“Domestic Markings” by Kelly Jean Ohl is comprised of 43 individual pieces

Ohl keeps a ready supply of different components on hand so she has plenty to choose from when an order comes through. This allows her to mix and match in nearly endless combinations, ensuring that her sculptures are both unique and visually cohesive.

"Domestic Markings" forms ready to be used in wall installations.

“Domestic Markings” forms ready to be used in wall installations.

A stunning variety of completed "stick" forms to be used in wall installations.

A stunning variety of completed “stick” forms to be used in wall installations.

Because of her creative process, individual components in any given installation may have been made on completely different days, from completely different types of clay. She uses six different stoneware and porcelain clay bodies for the varied colors and effects they can achieve. She’ll spend one week working exclusively in one clay body, then, after thoroughly cleaning the entire studio (accidentally mixing clay bodies can cause kiln disasters), she moves on to the next. A single wall piece may include components made of all six clay bodies.

Boxes of clay waiting to be transformed into art.

Boxes of clay waiting to be transformed into art.

The rich, earthy colors of her work are created with naturally occurring oxides rather than glazes. An oxide is like a single, concentrated baking ingredient—say, cocoa powder or vanilla extract—while glazes are more like cake mixes, containing a variety of ingredients. Using one over the other is primarily a matter of aesthetics, and Ohl’s choice of oxides serves her work beautifully, heightening its textural contrast and organic character.

Ohl finishes her work with oxides, which look different before firing (right) and after (left).

Ohl finishes her work with oxides, which look different before firing (right) and after (left).

We’re so grateful to Kelly Jean Ohl for inviting us into her studio and giving us a firsthand glimpse of her creative process. I think that all of us left with an even greater appreciation for her beautiful, tactile ceramic artwork than we had before—I know that I certainly did.

Kelly Jean Ohl creates a remarkable variety of artwork!

Kelly Jean Ohl creates a remarkable variety of artwork!

By |May 6th, 2016|spotlights|4 Comments

Inside a Glassblower’s Studio

We met glass artist Richard S. Jones at his workspace, Studio Paran, where he both creates and displays an array of his handcrafted glass art. Studio Paran is located on the east side of Madison, Wisconsin, in the fittingly artistic neighborhood of Schenk’s Corners. As we entered, we gathered around the focal point of his studio—the hot and fiery furnace, or “glory hole,” as it is called in the glassblowing world. The glory hole is instrumental in the glassblowing process; it is used to reheat the glass to ensure that it stays malleable for reshaping.

The furnace, or glory hole, is a central feature of Jones’ glassblowing studio.

Jones’ passion for art developed at a young age when he began taking drawing lessons from a neighbor in his hometown. He later went on to earn a BFA in glass from the Rhode Island School of Design. Throughout the years, Richard has worked for and collaborated with many different artists, eventually joining other artists who worked at Studio Paran in Madison. In 2006, after working at Studio Paran for several years, he took full ownership of the studio.

The entrance to Studio Paran, Jones’ workspace.

Richard S. Jones and his assistant, Sam, typically work nine to five, Monday through Friday, blowing glass as demand requires. Richard and Sam have worked together for two years, which contributes to their seamless and almost choreographed glassblowing routine. It turns out that the secret behind glassblowing is repetition, repetition, repetition.

Jones and his assistant, Sam, work together to create each piece.

Jones and his assistant, Sam, work together to create each piece.

 

Jones shapes a glass vase.

There was a balance and synchronicity in their exchanges and transitions as they shaped the glass from molten orb to vase. We stood watching the two artists in action, mesmerized by the glassblowing duo as if watching a pair of ballroom dancers tango before us. The two worked in silence, evoking a sense of peacefulness and tranquility. To me, this seemed to speak to Richard’s use of the artistic process as a meditative practice.

Jones holds a blowpipe glowing with molten glass.

Blowpipes heat up in the pipe warmer before being used.

Despite what appears to be a seamless process to the outside eye, Richard believes that there is always room for improvement. He shared with us his plans for developing a new color palette as well as his recent exploration of an entirely new style of work. This is all evidence of the fact that Richard S. Jones is an artist dedicated to lifelong learning and continuous growth. We left Studio Paran with a deeper understanding of the artist behind the artwork; ultimately feeling a stronger connection to the pieces we encounter and share with customers on a daily basis.

Richard S. Jones uses shears and other tools to cut and shape his work.

Richard S. Jones uses shears and other tools to cut and shape his work.

By |April 25th, 2016|spotlights|Comments Off on Inside a Glassblower’s Studio