Fall 2003 Fellow
In recent years, several notable glass artists have addressed the topic of clothing in their work; however, Susan Glasgow, a Fall 2003 Resident Fellow of the Creative Glass Center of America, is probably the only one who actually sews pieces of glass together with waxed linen thread or nylon ribbon. At one time Glasgow, who has a degree in graphic design from the University of Iowa, fitted and sewed many silk and lace wedding dresses in her own dress-making business. But today when she says, “If ever I become a household name, it’ll be through fashion,” she is talking about the fashions she depicts and critiques in glass.
Glasgow fuses shaped sheets of glass into the components of clothing and household objects, a technique which she believes has been “slow to come up through the ranks.” Like a dressmaker, she purchases a variety of fabrics: as many as forty sheets of bull’s-eye glass in a variety of colors and textures. “As I use it, I develop a favorite color and combination of colors. Then I think, ‘Oh this’d be cool with a little more something in it.’” Her palette continually shifts, responding to seasonal changes and other external stimuli.
Glasgow’s technique has much in common with that of a stained glass artist, but, of course, the individual glass components are three-dimensional and instead of using copper foil to link color areas, she plans for overlapping edges of glass which will later be sewn together. It’s been observed that clothing is a kind of vessel for the body. Glasgow’s vessels—sometimes shaped like clothes but often constructed to mimic the forms of functional objects—are tailored to paper patterns. Through trial and error she constructs clay and steel molds for the pattern pieces.
Glasgow has devised a way of stabilizing numerous small apertures in the hot glass through which stitching will later be threaded. The holes in linked pieces have to match perfectly or the final work will be skewed. Glasgow’s technique is so original that she is in the process of patenting it. “I’m anal about making sure things go right. I don’t have time for things to go wrong. That’s one nice thing about being here (at CGCA), I have time to take risks. By the time I leave here, I’ll have more in my bag of tricks.”
Each completed work requires a minimum of four kiln firings. The first two establish the shape. Subsequent firings transfer imagery to the three dimensional surface. The pictures, patterns, and text are usually fashion-related and often provide a witty commentary on gender roles. A teapot with a pacifier-like top has a handle in the form of a pair of wide-open scissors—a subtly erotic form, yet one which is clearly functional and designed for the hand. One side of the teapot presents a portrait of “Sewing Susan” advertising “Bull’s Eye Needles.” Other sections are marked like paper pattern pieces for sewing.
A simple vase form sports an advertising image of a man in a monogrammed bathrobe and the superscription “Stylish/Comfort.” Glasgow assembles such pictures from scanned examples of vintage black and white graphics and alters them to fit the intended surface and her concept. Text comes last. “I pick out words that intrigue me and evoke images themselves.”
A favorite topic is lingerie advertising in which phrases like “glamorous lift” and “youthful separation” amuse the artist. Often she refires hand painted tints onto linear designs drawn from advertising. In the final assembly of many of these works, Glasgow attaches occasional vintage buttons with the stitches which join sections of glass.
She finds print advertising from the 1950’s to be an especially fertile source. Cigarettes were more openly promoted and the provocative influence of television was just beginning to be felt in American households. Glasgow notes that tropes of gender representation “haven’t changed that much over the decades. I respond to (old) advertising mostly because it’s so misleading. Of course, it’s happening now, too, but I have the advantage of hindsight. I like the nostalgia but I don’t want my work to be sugar sweet.”