Born in Wisconsin on Pearl Harbor Day, 1956, I am the youngest of three children. At the age of six, my family settled on Mercer Island in
Washington State. My childhood was the picture book ideal raised in a quiet island community cradled by rugged northwest mountain ranges. I began
working with oils and pastels at age six and progressed to ceramics in high school. While studying mechanical engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle, I also taught ceramics at a local community center.
In 1981 I graduated with a BSME and I began working Civil Service for the United States Navy as an assistant nuclear engineer aboard submarines.
Nightly, armed with a security badge and radiation monitor, I searched the bilges of reactor compartments for obscure valves. Often, I conducted tests on reactor components and recorded measurements from various dials and meters. Following a brisk shakedown with a Geiger counter, I would sail across Puget Sound from Bremerton to Seattle to pursue my alternative life.
Working nights as a nuclear engineer, my days were available to pursue glass. Studying at the Pratt School of Fine Arts in Seattle and later at the Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, WA provided a foundation to establish a studio of my own. Isolated in the Southern Oregon coast wilderness for over a decade, I developed my own unique style, heavily influenced by the raw grandeur of the maritime Pacific Northwest. The current studio location provides a grandeur of a different sort, the robust diversity and activity of historic Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle. Here in my hometown resides a core of glass workers to rival any in the world. This proximity to the abundant knowledge and skilled artisans provides the necessary fuel to propel my work to seek new heights.
I learned to blow glass using the team approach. Because of this I had the good fortune of working with several very talented Northwest artists like Dale Chihuly, Flora Benjamin Moore, Richard Royal, Dante Marioni, William Morris, Karen Willenbrink, Stephan Dale Edwards, Joey Kirkpatric and Mark Eckstrand. These individuals have greatly enriched my understanding of glass. One of the most influential to myself, Dale Chihuly, provided me with the tremendous opportunity of working on one of his winter glass blowing teams held then at Pilchuck.
A coordinated glass team is poetry in motion. Like a well-choreographed dance each person has his or her part. Mine is to lead the group and with their assistance, execute the piece. Every piece and all the design on it is personally hand formed by myself. With my signature comes my vision and takes with it a little part of me.
Glass, unlike any other medium, possesses the remarkable qualities of transparency and flexibility. This allows not only the formation of a full-bodied sculpture, but also the ability to create depth within the walls of the glass vessel. My imagery is directed towards creating a sense of perspective. While hot, glass can be bent, twisted and folded into complex convoluted capsules. These capsules are self-contained elements full of detail and animation. I then use these elements to build a baroque surface, alive with activity, complete with the illusion of foreground and distant background.
On a different level my work carries a message about boundaries - the boundaries between order and chaos. When we see structure, the edge of its order is imposing a limit to the extent of the chaotic world in which it exists. Imposed limits induce competition and competition determines the rise and fall of empires, the survival of entire species. Metaphorically, an island represents order and the sea chaos. The shoreline defines the limit of the water's edge and the sea in turn shapes the island contour. It is this competition between what is straight and flat with that which is contorted and wrinkled which forms the glass vessels into their sinuous, coastal tracings. This struggle is echoed at every level in our environment and is the heart of the engine driving evolution.
The surface of my glass depicts colorful abstractions of flora and fauna. Minerals and vapors dance in the realm between dimensions. The designs, though basically flat two-dimensional objects, reach out towards the third dimension to suggest forms with volume. Intermingled layers of clear, tinted and opaque glass combine with dichroic and polychromatic filigree to create a chaotic fabric. Through juxtaposition and happenstance the viewer will see new order emerging. Hidden structure can suddenly appear. I work with reflective and transparent areas. This allows some things to be seen while hiding others, evoking a sense of adventure and discovery. Most of all I want people to wonder "What's on the other side?"
Illusive, defiant of straight-line logic, glass lends itself well to my ideas. Intuition is the key to working this material. Hot glass is so sensitive that sometimes even a subtle breath sends it reeling. Yet the finished vessel is capable of withstanding thousands of years of admiration. Captures like a snapshot, the real life motions of fire and water are mirrored in glass. The source of my inspiration comes from the ability of glass to carry that feeling of movement.
The Greek work Dichroic literally translates as "Two Lights." This describes the materials unique ability to manipulate light to simultaneously produce two very different colors. When light falls onto a sheet of dichroic glass a series of dynamic interactions within the dichroic produces a phenomenon known as destructive interference. Due to this destructive interference the reflected light becomes colored because some spectra are absent. The remaining light filtered through the dichroic is called the transmitted color. Enriching the effect further is a subtle change in color as one moves about the piece. Dichroic is angle specific, a shift in the viewers position causes a corresponding shift in color.
Dichroic is created by alternately evaporating zirconium oxide and silicone oxide and allowing them to condense in layers on glass. In a vacuum chamber, unobstructed by air, these materials form stacks of extremely thin films. The films, being only a fraction of the wavelength of light, are capable of interacting with light in surprisingly beautiful ways.
Dichroic is a new development in glass however it is a familiar sight to everyone. Have you ever seen a rainbow trout, bright metallic beetle or iridescent bird feather? These are natural occurrences of dichroics and their qualities. Brilliant colors with piercing intensity are featured prominently in both the works of Mother Nature and James Nowak.
Notes on the Process
The molten white mass, the "gather", the "womb honey," is taken on a long blowpipe from the red-hot furnace. With two or three quick steps and a turn the artist seats himself at his workbench to begin the shaping. An assistant blows through the long white hollow tube to swell out the quivering mass. The artist's bare strong-muscled arm is protected from the heat of the blow torch by a wooden paddle wielded by another helper as he turns the molten lava, glowing red, in a long-handled wooded cup. Then, wrapping the hot glass in folded wet "Wall Street Journals" and holding it in the palm of his hand the can feel the mass moving as he molds it into the shape he is seeing in his imagination. Then, shafts of solid colour are added as the glass is thrust into the glowing furnace. Here in the red mouth of the fire, as more colours and shapes are added, forms begin singing in the glass--sea anemones, perhaps, or mollusks, starfish, eyes of fishes, glittering scales, coral, and ribbons of water. Gold threads of light and silvery eels, whale sperm and the mystery of a rose in a bubble of Time. Time caught in its brief moment of life as the pain of the artist is sometimes revealed as Beauty.
Eden Vale Stevens
This is green-blue sky silvered by paths of light. Or is it a trumpet flower with fluted edges streaked by sun? Within this flaring goblet of glass live denizens of a watery world, and tall unearthly plants drinking colour through their hollow stems. Are these crustaceans crawling among ooze-fed anemones? Have grey stones suffered a seachange to become jewels strewing the ocean floor: pearls and jade, amethyst and opals, onyx and amber, and have the myriad of salt crystals become diamonds sparkling in the light of electric eels and the glowing eyes of pale pink fished?
Eden Vale Stevens
© 2003 Gingerbread Square Gallery