Kristin Qualls on “Creativity Ascertained”

Kristin Qualls on “Creativity Ascertained”

AG: Tell me about what you do here at WheatonArts.

KQ: I’m the Director of Exhibitions and Collections at WheatonArts and Cultural Center. In practice that means I work primarily on exhibits in the Museum of American Glass as well as manage the collections of both historic and contemporary glass art.

AG: And you have a new exhibit that’s just gone in called “Creativity Ascertained: The Art of the Fellowship.”

KQ: It’s an exhibition that’s highlighting some of our more recent fellows. We are host to the Creative Glass Center of America Fellowship — we have been since 1983. It’s a fellowship that brings in ten artists a year to live and work with us here on campus and use our glass studio to really explore, their art, and how they express themselves with this very unique medium.

We really wanted to highlight some of the more recent fellows that have come in who are doing some really experimental work and that we felt really used their time here at Wheaton to push the envelope in new ways and really explore their creative process. So it’s not so much about a focus on the final piece that one would lock up in a vitrine and that’s all there is, but we also wanted to focus on the prototypes, the sketches, and have the piece speak to the larger process that they went through while they were here.

AG: Do the artists begin the fellowship with an idea of what sort of work they’ll be doing? 

KQ: Yes, they apply with an idea, but a lot do not end up completing exactly what they put down in the fellowship form. [This is] in part because you get here and there are a lot of variables: who your fellow fellows are – they learn a lot from each other; who the other staff artists are here on site; who visiting artists might be. There’s a lot of interaction between the artists that just create different ideas and push everyone in different ways that they could just not imagine when they were applying. So a lot of the projects just really develop once they get here.

We have ten artists in the show, all fairly recent fellows of the past five years. We have Megan Biddle. She’s at the Tyler School of Art, she teaches glass there. It’s great because she can bring her students out.

Deborah Czeresko, is coming out of New York. She’s doing some really amazing, very technically difficult things but she still has such a great sense of humor about it. It’s really refreshing.

Christopher Duffy, who is also from Brooklyn, New York. He’s doing some really interesting stuff with mechanical things and so it’s really interesting the way he’s pushing the glass in different ways.

Karin Forslund, a Swedish artist currently based in Denmark, was doing some really interesting stuff with taking the raw glass batch and playing with it in different ways to see what happens, to see how it freezes and shows the specific point of time in the process.

Max Grossman, who, after his fellowship, never left us. He stayed on as staff artist, which is great. He does some really interesting sand casting work.

Brett Swenson, who is also from Brooklyn. He does some really interesting things with microwave ovens. It’s very fascinating how he works with this material that has very ancient technologies, furnace technology, and is adding in this whole new power source of microwaves and seeing what that does with it.

Brian McGovern Wilson is also from Brooklyn and he really looks at glass in the sense that it’s a geologic time-frame and what that means about sharing information, especially looking at nuclear power and how we’re going to tell the future about the waste and that it’s dangerous.

Celeste Wilson is also from Brooklyn, NY, and she’s looking at the perceived flaws in glass and how they can actually be beautiful. So like the cords and the bubbles you see in handmade glass.

Chris Wolston is also from Brooklyn but he did a fellowship down in Colombia working with brick factories that still make bricks by hands. That really influenced how he worked with the glass and the fact that you can’t touch the glass directly. You can with the bricks but not the glass and how can you get that same feeling in a medium you can’t physically touch with your hands while you’re shaping it?

Finally we have Ben Wright. He’s also from Brooklyn and he runs the whole education department at Urban Glass. He took quite literally my call to give a piece that gave insight into his process. So his is looking inside of his brain.

AG: What about the prototyping process?

KQ: A lot of what happens during the fellowship is that it gives these artists time to explore new ideas in a medium that is very expensive and can be difficult to get your hands on. So a lot of that is in a sense prototyping or just a, “What happens if I do this with the glass?” experiment. And based on that experiment move on to the next model and say, “Okay, so I tried this, I’m going to change this variable or we’re going to turn up the heat here or add this ingredient to the batch” and see what happens. It’s often going to be a series of experiments or prototypes to develop an idea of either what ingredients you want in the glass – so how the glass looks once it’s created – or how you want to shape the glass while it’s hot or how you want to heat up and cool down the glass and what that can do to it as a material.

AG: Were there any particular surprises that happened during these fellowships? Were there any artists who went in with one thing in mind and came out with something totally different?

KQ: What I’ve found about artists but artists, who work in this medium of glass in particular, are amazingly resilient to the fact that the medium is going to do what it wants and you don’t know what your piece truly is until the end. In that sense, none of these artists have come here thinking they’re going to get out of the fellowship exactly what they wrote in the application. Even if they do what they said in the application, they’re still very open to letting the process speak to how it turns out. I wouldn’t say there are any particular surprises but that it’s all a surprise! It’s really amazing working with people who are open to change. That level of not being in control is really inspiring.

Alexandra Golaszewska and Kristin Qualls – May 2015