Beauty and serious statements via art glass
There are aspects of Julianna Kirk’s fused glass that resemble the coaxing of alchemy. Her creations, whether a delicate terracotta-hued dish with an arresting swirl of reds, whites and grays flecked in gold, or jewelry with such vibrant colors mixed with small crystals or talisman touches that call to the soul, her art has been an evolutionary journey involving discovery, family and now, urgent messages to recognize Planet Earth’s plight.
Her awareness of color was prompted by weekly visits to her Catholic Church growing up, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Lindenhurst, and studying the stained-glass windows.
“I looked at them on a sunny day, a cloudy day, changing weather,” she said of her musings watching the intensity and duration of the light that changed the glass.
A retired Longwood High School art teacher and member of Women Sharing Art Inc., she teaches at her home studio in Brookhaven, but also at Bayard Cutting Arboretum, Eastern Suffolk BOCES, and at Gallery North in Setauket. Kirk is also the glass chairperson for the Long Island Craft Guild.
Her awards and exhibits are prodigious and her glass education included stays at Camp Colton Glass, just outside of Portland, Ore. with Boyce Lundstrom in the late 1980s, as well as at the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle, founded by famed glass artist Dale Chihuly, and a trip to Italy to work with master artist Miriam DiFiori in her glass studio north of Milan.
“My husband was a basketball coach for South Country School District, and I was a sports widow for several months for 10 years,” she said of husband Kevin Kirk. “So when I wanted to expand in design and expertise, he supported it.”
While she started out in stained glass, fused glass offered her more design freedom, she said.
“My first series of successful pieces were initiated by Boyce [Lundstrom],” Kirk said. “He asked, ‘what do you love?’ And I said, ‘horses.’ So I started doing carousel horses in glass.”
An example was the fused glass pony in her living room with its red-flecked body and varied green-colored mane poised to gallop off its shelf and head for the woods.
Her art involves fusing multiple pieces together; with the stained glass process, multiple-colored pieces of glass are fired within a metal framework into one whole piece of glass. A kiln is used for both creations.
Like any artist, design ideas come randomly but Kirk keeps herself open to them. “I have annual sketchbooks full of ideas,” she said. “But I’ll work on a napkin or a tablecloth if necessary when the ideas come.”
“And now,” she said, pulling up her smartphone, “I’ll take a picture of some design I can use. The ideas may flow or not, but I want to be ready for them.”
A creation takes concentration and meticulous adjustments.
She draws a design on paper, then cuts colored glass to fit in the design. The glass she uses is ordered mostly from Bullseye Glass Co. because of its quality.
“The work goes on a primed kiln shelf; I have to watch how much per hour it heats and select the appropriate temperature it ends at,” she said of the selected temperature, which is digitally controlled. “It goes higher and higher, so the glass can end in pool of liquid if it’s not right.
“A simple firing takes three and a half hours to get up and seven hours to come down,” she explained. “I have complex firings with annealing [that is, slowly cooling hot glass objects, critical to its durability], which allows all the pieces to connect really well.”
Kirk has a studio upstairs in her home and two kilns in her basement.
“There’s so much chemistry involved and I was so bad at math,” she said candidly, “but that’s why I keep notes on every firing.”
Leftover glass scraps from the cuttings are incorporated into one-of-a-kind pieces.
Oakdale resident Cathy Penna, who attended Kirk’s Holiday Art Sale over Thanksgiving weekend, commented on her purchase, a cobalt blue pendant. “I was drawn to the cobalt color,” said Penna, which she favors. “And also the green and the leaf design across it,” she said. “But this piece, because of the shape and color and design, I had to have it right away. That was my Christmas present to me and when it jumps out at you, he who hesitates is lost.”
Kirk’s house is surrounded by woods, and her two daughters, Kristin Murphy and Taryn Glynn, live nearby with her four grandchildren. So it’s not surprising that their futures and the dire effects of climate change pushed her to create glass art that’s bonded to a cause, and also to politics, since 2009. She exhibited at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in their 2017 Creative Climate Awards show this year and will show her pieces next year at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum.
“All the pieces won’t be so pretty, but that’s OK,” she said.
For more information, log onto www.juliannakirkglassartist.com.
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