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Glass Artist Carole Perry

Author: Terri Feder
Issue: February, 2014, Page 154
Photos by Garrett Cook

Artist Carole Perry stands next to sheets of colored glass at her Laughing Glass Studio in Cave Creek, Arizona.



A corporate refugee finds a joyful new calling in kiln-fired glass

Growing up in Medford, Oregon, glass artist Carole Perry had little inkling of the artist’s life that she would later lead. “My mother would tell you how artistic I was as a child, but I saw myself as strictly left-brained,” she recalls.

Perry’s dance with glass began 23 years ago. Back then, she was living in a 4,000-square-foot home in Scottsdale, driving a Mercedes-Benz, wearing power suits, and enjoying a six-figure income as an executive in the computer industry. To most, she appeared to be living the American dream. But looks can be deceptive. In 1990, unhappy with the corporate world, she abruptly quit her job. She then grabbed the first plane back to Oregon and headed to the woods.

There, she spent quiet time trying to figure out what to do with the second half of her life. “The woods I hiked in housed a 240-acre glass camp full of studios. There were artists working with hot (blown) glass, warm glass and cold. My intent was to just hang out with the artists, hike, fish and camp, but it was cold and rainy. I went inside a studio and was immediately smitten,” Perry recalls.

This blue-and-turquoise sculpture is entitled Surf’s Up and measures 14"H x 17"W x 9"deep.
She returned to Scottsdale, ditched the big house and fancy car, bought a property in Cave Creek, Arizona, along with a kiln, and promptly set about becoming an artist. “I knew that I wanted to do warm glass (1500°F) as opposed to hot-blown glass (2300°F), because working with hot glass in Arizona year-round isn’t really feasible,” she notes. “I took some classes with glass artist Tom Philabaum in Tucson and then just dove in.” In six months’ time, Perry had her first show, and she has been working as a professional glass artist ever since.

Over the years, Perry has refined her style, garnered a reputation and branched out into different forms of kiln-fired glass art. Today, she works out of her home studio and gallery—Laughing Glass Studio—where she divides her time between working as an “artiste” and as a “working artist.”

When wearing her “artiste” hat, she focuses on her signature glass tapestries—purely sculptural pieces known for their colorful ribbon-like layers of textured glass. These high-end works are sold in galleries. When laboring as a “working artist,” Perry crafts pieces for her studio line of dishware and designs custom glass tile for backsplashes and glass works for her new line of corporate gifts and awards.

It’s the glass tapestries, however, that most inspire and impassion the artist. The vibrant freeform sculptures are crafted in Perry’s outdoor pole barn, which has a dirt floor, open walls and a metal roof. “The first time I made a piece by myself, I smoked my cotton shirt, set the floor on fire and spontaneously combusted nearby papers, so I quickly learned the importance of working in a safe space,” she relates with a smile.

Photos - From left: One of Carole Perry’s signature glass tapestries, this red-and-ivory hued sculpture is called My Bliss and measures 10"H x 18"W x 10" deep. • vibrantly hued serving pieces

Perry begins her signature tapestries by alternating nine layers of vertically and horizontally placed thread-thin glass canes, focusing on the color combinations. “It’s all about the color for me. Some people call me a colorist because I’ll spend days just on it,” she says. Layers one, three, five, seven and nine are color layers; the other layers are clear. “I incorporate clear layers because they allow me to bring light into the pieces,” the artist explains.

Next, she gingerly carries the precarious form to her kiln. “I quit drinking coffee 15 years ago. You cannot be shaky when transporting stacked glass threads—imagine carrying 8,000 ball bearings on an open shelf. You almost have to get into a Zen-like state when carrying the pieces and putting them in the kiln,” she remarks.

Once the glass reaches the optimal temperature in the kiln, Perry dons silver protective Kevlar gear from her head to her knees, looking something akin to an astronaut. Her husband and studio partner, Don, then opens the kiln door and the artist uses her thickly gloved hands to pull the now compressed piece out. She quickly drapes the slab of molten glass over one padded arm and makes a fist with her other hand to punch into it.

An array of Perry’s kiln-fired glass works—some purely sculptural, as in the two works featuring glass flowers with metal bases by steel artist Claudia Robinson.
“The piece finds its own shape as it wriggles itself around my arm. The heat and the colors determine the form,” Perry explains. Dark colors absorb heat easily, while light colors, such as ivory and white, resist it. Thus, the soft colors “wriggle,” while the hard ones are less flexible. “I never really know exactly what I’m going to pull out. It’s always a little surprise,” the artist reports.

Although she has found acclaim through her signature tapestries and dishware line, Perry never stops trying to evolve and innovate. “For the 17 years I’ve participated in the Hidden in the Hills tour, I’ve always introduced new forms and new works,” she says. “The cool thing about the studio glass movement is that it’s so young—only 50 years old. Because it’s still in its infancy, we glass artists meet now and then somewhere in the world to try and learn from each other and discover new forms. There is still so much that we don’t yet know.”
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