Self-Taught Artist Creates Fused Glass Masks
Learn how an artist makes vibrant African masks and Pacific Northwest-inspired totem poles using flat glass.
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Though self-taught artist Shawn Athari has been working with flat glass since the mid 1970s, it wasn't until attending a seminar on warm glass in 1982 that she found her creative voice. Athari is highly influenced by history and culture, from her vibrant African masks to her Pacific Northwest-inspired totem poles.
We get to see the process behind creating one of her Pacific Northwest wolf masks. Athari must be able to fully visualize a piece before she starts, so she makes a pattern for the mask on paper. Once the pattern is made, she cuts colored sheets of glass to make the base colors of the pattern. Each color is cut individually. At this point she uses a band-saw to create the jagged shape of the teeth in the lower jaw. She layers each piece precisely, then begins to add glass accents like "icing on the cake" of each piece, literally drizzling poured glass as the trim on the back of the wolf's head. She also uses latticino, a canework technique in which she melts and twists thin strips of colored glass together.
Once all the elements are in place, Athari melts them together in a kiln at 1600 F degrees. After the fused piece cools, she applies enamel detailing. She does this by mixing glass powder and a painting medium to create enamel. She uses the enamel in the same way a painter uses shading to highlight certain aspects and draw them out, like the fierce bottom jaw. She also sometimes uses a special marking pen to create smaller spot accents, like the small flecks of color along the wolf's ear. Finally, once she's satisfied with the color balance and look, she slumps the mask at 1300 F degrees. This is the most challenging step, because the internal stress of the fused pieces can break as the piece softens over her mold.
Over the years, Athari has created a body of work that spans centuries and cultures while evolving her own colorful glass processes. She enjoys building this bridge to the past through her luminous glass masks.