When did you first know you were an artist?
It was always there. When I was 11 I started taking pottery classes at a local studio. In college, I was an Art History major, mainly because it required an abundance of different studio classes. Then I discovered glass at San Francisco State University – both architectural stained glass and blown. That was it, I was hooked.
Favorite medium(s) you use to make art?
Initially, I worked in stained glass and thought I would focus on architectural glass, but then I started fusing glass. For almost 30 years I have worked with kiln firing glass. I love how you start with sharp and unyielding edges and through the firing process, the pieces melt together, the edges round out and the glass takes on a gloss called a fire polish.
What are the most interesting new trends in your field? Is your work changing as a result?
Glass work is based on centuries-old techniques that may be enhanced by technology (electronic kiln controls!) but are basically the same. In stylistic terms, I love looking at glass design to capture inspiration but I try not to get too wrapped up with new trends.
Talk about your creative process – where/when do you get most of your ideas and how do you know a piece is ‘finished’?
For most of the past 30 years my focus has been on creating glass Jewish Ritual Objects. So while the function of a piece does not change, i.e., a Menorah or Seder Plate, how I express it visually does. The idea for a new piece starts in my mind and needs to gestate there for a while before I approach the glass. I love playing with color and pattern and often it is the materials I find to combine with the glass that speak to me. Experimenting and combining the glass with micas, enamels, fiberglass, glass paints, etc., have continually led me to new designs. After repeating a piece over and over with minor variables there comes an “Aha” moment – that point when I know that I have hit upon the right resolution.
Do you also teach or are you strictly a creative artist? Who was your most influential mentor and why?
In the past, I have taught Stained Glass, but prefer to spend most of my time in the studio now.
There are two influential mentors who loom large in my mind. One was a design teacher I had in college. Beyond the basics of color, line and composition, he referred to “that special doodah”- it is that little something that we put into a piece that makes it come alive or completes it.
The other was my father. I tagged along with him all the time whether it was at work (he had his own business as a wholesale meat purveyor) or helping him build and fix things around the house. He dealt with life through humor and kindness and had a lot of great sayings such as “The mind can only absorb what the tuchas can endure,” “Better a piece of bread working for yourself then a piece of cake working for someone else,” and “You live and you learn.”
What are you working on now?
When you derive your livelihood from your art you need to pay attention to how “the business of art” has changed in recent years. When I first started out, having an 800 phone number and a fax machine was practically cutting edge and craft fairs were a necessity. We also displayed our work in the “Handmade” section of national trade fairs like the New York Gift Show. There we developed relationships with galleries, museum shops and catalogs, both nationally and internationally.
Recently I have been challenged and enthralled with working on a smaller scale. I have started a jewelry line featuring fused glass, much of which incorporates silver leaf into the firing. Since now you need to have a strong online and social media presence, I have built a shop-able website and honed my social media skills. And although we don’t exhibit at many craft fairs anymore, we are so fortunate to have marvelous shows like Hudson Valley Hullabaloo and Made in Kingston right here in town to showcase our work.
How has being in Kingston enhanced/inspired your work? What do you like best about living in Kingston/being involved with MAD? How long have you been here?
In 1990 my husband Michael (also my business partner) and I moved to Olivebridge. As much as we loved living out in the country, we felt very isolated. Five years ago we moved into a house in Midtown Kingston and set up our studio at The Shirt Factory. Since then we have redesigned a portion of our home to accommodate the studio. We both love how involved we have become in our community. I was at the first planning meeting for MAD and since then have become involved with helping to organize Made in Kingston. In addition, I am on the organizing committee for Fall for Art, an event sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Ulster County that raises money for several social service agencies here in Kingston.
We love taking a break from the studio and walking (with our fearless dachshund Ozzie) down along Kingston Point or the Rondout. Life along the Hudson is inspiring, as is the arts community here. It feels like an Art Renaissance is happening here and we are so delighted to be a part of it.
Sara Fern Jewelry