Tracy Glover: Transparent Beauty

Liquidity and color distinguish glass artist Tracy Glover’s lamps, lighting fixtures, and decorative accessories.

home lighting: enLightenment


Accomplished glassblower Tracy Glover grew up immersed in the arts, observing her father, who worked as a graphic designer for the government, and her Finnish mother, who collected glass paperweights and had a great appreciation for Scandinavian design.

“I always thought it was so magical that someone could encase small glass shapes in crystal,” Glover remarks about the paperweights. “I would also say that the bold colors, graphic prints, and clean lines of companies like Marimekko (of Finland) were big influences on me,” she adds. That childhood experience helped shape and awaken her artistic sensibilities. “At night, we would paint and sculpt together in the basement,” she recalls.

It was not until she was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) that Glover explored glass as a medium. “I saw a photograph of a woman blowing glass in the RISD course catalog,” she states. That image spurred Glover to try the class.

Her surroundings in Rhode Island – an area that is delightfully rife with artists and designers – has also played a part. An avid oarsman who regularly rows on Naragansett Bay, the transparency and liquidity of water plus the way sunlight hits its surface, breaks up color, and reflects off the waves is inspiring. “I love the way glass sparkles and reflects light. A collection of glass pieces in a room can be very eye-catching,” she notes. “Glass can add beautiful decorative touches, but because of the transparency, it keeps the space from feeling overcrowded or cluttered.”

Her career as an artist began as soon as she graduated from RISD. “I took a job in New York City working for a painter, Robin Winters, who hired me because he knew nothing about glass but was intrigued. I introduced him to the medium and worked for him as a gaffer, helping him to realize his ideas in glass,” Glover remarks. “This led to a gig in Belgium, where I blew glass for him in a convent that had been converted into the Valle Saint Lambert crystal factory.”

When she returned to the U.S., Glover traveled around New England, working for various glass artists to learn the different aspects of running a studio and creating a production line. “In the beginning I only made small objects, but as my skills increased I was able to challenge myself with new techniques and to work on a larger scale,” she says. “There are so many specialized techniques in glassblowing that learning each one can seem like learning a new romance language: the root is similar, but there are variations. You definitely lose your ability to be ‘conversational’ in those techniques if you don’t practice,” she muses.

Glover’s process of glass design is similar to how other artists approach their craft, but has a twist.  “I enjoy ‘sketching’ with glass, where I take my drawings and try to figure out how to turn them into something three-dimensional,” she comments. “It begins with a sketch on paper. Then I scan my doodles into the computer and play around in Photoshop, cutting and pasting photos of my glass components into my drawings,” GIover explains. “The process is very organic, and I always come up with more new ideas than what I had started out with. I also love the small marvels of hot glass, like being able to cut into a molten bubble with shears, then, moments later, watch it harden again.”

Glover’s imagination is also sparked by the large bins of glass parts on the shelves, separated by shape, in her studio. “Recently, I strung up several dozen bubbles with wire and created a big colorful cloud. I photographed it and sent the image to a metal fabricator, who is helping me turn this into a fixture,” she says.  Other times, inspiration is right before her eyes. “I saw my staff sitting together at lunch wearing citron green, red, olive, gold, and khaki,” Glover comments. “I thought their accidental palette was so beautiful that I created a new colorway I call Lifesaver.”

According to Glover, glass majors at RISD were discouraged from making products. Instead, “the focus was on making conceptual fine art,” she explains, adding, “I found that difficult because I am less interested in concepts than I am in functional objects. I have a great appreciation for something well-made that is also beautiful to look at and use. That said, my time at RISD was an incredible experience that changed my life. I was surrounded by talented and creative people who both inspired me and taught me how to see things differently.”

Indeed, Glover’s perspective is unique. “I am developing more ideas that are sculptural, but still functional. In particular, [I’m intrigued by] the ideas of playing with outside light sources to illuminate my glass and have the reflections become an important aspect of the design,” she says.

On the drawing board at the moment is a glass installation for a restaurant’s skylight that will create very large reflections on the wall below. The glass will be hidden in a soffit that can only be seen by diners sitting in one of the booths along the wall.

Her inspiration is constant and comes from a variety of sources. “I love the show Project Runway because I think it typifies the art school experience: you have a small window of time to address a design challenge, the expectations are enormous, and every week you have to come up with a new idea. It’s always a scramble,” she reveals. “Every week I try to grab a ‘stolen moment’ to sit on the couch in my office, shut the door, and sketch. Maybe it is in response to something a customer wants that I don’t have, or perhaps I see a piece of glass in the studio from a different angle and that might give me a new idea. I have always loved to draw and paint, but lately, I only do that in the context of generating ideas for glass.”

Just as Glover loves the way glass interacts with light, so do her clients. “My customers appreciate the quality of the glass and how the work interacts in their rooms in a way they did not expect when they saw the lamp photographed in a catalog,” she states. “Even one lamp, or one piece of furniture, that is well-crafted and thought out can elevate the whole room.”

Another aspect of her work that retailers rave about is their ability to spec any shape, color, size, and pattern of anything Glover makes for their customers.  In addition to selling lamps and fixtures off the showroom floor, retailers can order a site-specific profile of the item, which is then made to order for the consumer. Such specialization also extends to the choice of lampshade fabric, metal, and hardware finish.  The custom option permits homeowners as well as specifiers for hospitality projects to present a harmonious aesthetic for the lamps and fixtures while still having subtle variety in color and pattern.

What does the future hold? “In 2012, you will see my colorful cloud idea as a functioning fixture,” Glover predicts. “I am also introducing a new colorway called Coleus, which was inspired by all the plummy purples and mossy greens in the different Coleus plant varieties in my garden this summer. I’m also experimenting with LEDs.”

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