Tracey E. Ladd
Summer 2002 Fellow
With a background in graphics and fiber art, Tracey Ladd, a summer 2002 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, first turned to glass as a primary medium in graduate school (MFA, Bowling Green University, 1997). Perhaps as a consequence of her broad training in visual arts, glass for Ladd is simply one among many materials she uses in assemblage, though she often to treat it as the basic or background structure onto which she positions more expressive nuanced details. She adds components of cast metal, especially pewter, and appropriates found objects or parts of them for their layered meanings and ability to suggest a symbolic narrative. “I am fascinated with how we affect and are affected by objects,” she explains.
Ladd notes that character of assemblage echoes our environment. “The ‘real’ things around us are ‘mixed media.’ Like a door — it may be wood and brass hinges and a kick plate and even a window.” In this context, cast glass is simply one element in a complex process. Ladd likes the “gritty surface” that enables sandblasted glass to hold pigment and gold leaf. “It’s a good canvas.”
She moved away from her whimsical “Nostalgia Series” well before her CGCA residency, though she has not absolutely decided that it is complete. The complex nostalgia works are linked in form to houses and chests and related rectilinear, ornamented containers. They incorporate elements such as dolls, bits of jewelry and machinery. “Man-made objects,” she suggests, “contain the essence of human energy, human spirit. I love antique, excessive, funky little trinkets that don’t really have a use until you put them into a story.”
Typically “Nostalgia” works have moveable parts: wheels that turn, metal drawers that open. “I love people to be able to play with it. What’s the point of gluing it down?” she asks. “Drawers are for people’s imagination. What would you put in it? Spices? Clothes?” Cabriole legs and tiny drawers, are pewter cast in Ladd’s own kitchen using an iron skillet. Though the basic structure of each sculpture is symmetrical, Ladd treats each of the fours sides as an individual canvas incorporating an “amalgamation of shapes” in low relief.
Her post “Nostalgia” work at CGCA moves out of rectilinear space and seems to ask more of glass as an expressive medium. After CGCA, she will elaborate the interior and exterior surfaces of cast glass with bronze resin and other materials. “Most of the time the glass forms are not very exciting in my work,” she explains. The as yet undetermined additions should have a distinctive personal resonance for the viewer. All we can experience now is the suggestive character of shapes. A spare bending conical form resembles a decapitated, armless female figure — a dressmaker’s dummy– with a miniature torso and a voluminous bell-shaped skirt with a bustle, an apparent reference to historic female roles.
On the one hand, the long lines are elegant and perhaps a bit aloof, though the overwhelming skirt seems to restrain the constricted human element at its apex. The small upper body leans backward with in a preening gesture of display. Headless and handless, it is not going to think or do much. She intends the very abstractness of the shapes to suggest a variety of body parts.
These women/objects have the monumental, almost mountainous scale of landscape elements. On the other hand, they are not particularly large sculptures. Ladd builds them from wax sheets, invests them in plaster, melts out the wax and pours in hot glass. They are like large dolls in size, suggesting a Barbie-like objectification of women. When Ladd speaks of “exposing the transparency of glass,” one might think of these female figures as being all surface — a surface currently awaiting further elaboration.
In a specific allusion to the domestic role of woman, the cone of these cast garments might read as a structures (dwellings?) or containers. Ladd compares the shape to an inverted kitchen funnel. She describes a funnel “When you see it in a kitchen or shop, it’s directing matter or energy. It is an indicator or directional focus for matter. This, for me, is a quality of spirituality.”
Her goal is unusually specific and idealistic. She hopes that her spiritual understanding of the interconnectedness of things will manifest itself in the polysemy of her sculpture and facilitate “the constant examining of ourselves, how we can become better people and how that affects our lives.”
Two additional bodies of work begun at CGCA suggest landscape features. Small vertical castings have pointed tops like craggy mountains. Large horizontal masses are Ladd’s most ambitious castings. They might resemble the landscape observed from above. It is intriguing to speculate on her plans for populating these spaces.
In contrast to these masses of glass, Ladd cast many modest-sized pieces in crystal or colored glass, jewels of a sort, which she will mount in sterling silver necklaces. The handling of forms is simple but the jewelry is bold because of the dramatic, though not extreme, scale of the glass. Each necklace is especially fabricated for a particular chunk of crystal. Whenever possible, Ladd also customizes the necklace to fit a particular individual. She likes to give the silver a dark finish resembling pewter, her favorite metal.
“In technology and ideas, [glass] casting is starting to come into it’s own,” Ladd asserts. “It has endless possibilities. It’s very difficult to get blowing to transcend blown form. Some people do that very well, but casting can do more to transcend the method.” Of her own work she adds, “If people observe and take the time to read the sculptures, they find something. This [sculpture] is here as a tool, a story that you can relate to and, therefore, you can relate to yourself better.”