Except when exhibiting at a show or supervising an installation of her work, Sabra Richards is in her studio, creating steel and glass sculptures, designer tables, glass wall sections and smaller wall pieces.
She insists that she is an engineer as well as an artist, although her degree from Syracuse University is in fine arts, specifically painting. Richards is one of twelve new artists in the RiverArts Studio Tour, which concludes this weekend, November 3 – 4. The Spy recently spent an enjoyable and informative afternoon with the artist at her Cooper’s Lane studio.
Richards’ journey from painting to glass and steel was somewhat pragmatic; as a single mother, she needed money, and thus went into printing, (this was before the digital age); eventually becoming a papermaker. She had always wanted to work with glass; when her artists’ breakfast club decided to present a show featuring collaborations of artists working in two different mediums, she approached a glassmaker about a project, only to be told that as a new member, she was not allowed to exhibit. Not one to be deterred, Richards decided to learn how to make glass herself. An added plus – she lived near the Corning Glass headquarters and was able to use their kilns as well as learn from their glassmakers. This was about fifteen years ago, and Richards has been working in the medium ever since.
The first step is the steel design, which she draws on paper, and has transferred to a computer. Once the ¼ inch steel is laser cut, Richards primes and paints the pieces, then spends long hours with her welder, Steve. “The steel has to work on its own,” Richards stated. “Sometimes we cut the pieces apart and redo it, and it works out the second or third time. I have a good scrapyard, but you don’t get good pieces without a scrapyard.”
Richards’ newly renovated studio (she moved to Kent County this year) has a table saw (which sees daily use) and drill in addition to work tables and kilns. She tracks the usage on the diamond drill bit; once the bit becomes dull, it will crack the glass. She pointed out water dripping from the drill bit, a problem that needed addressing – perhaps she should add machinist or plumbing to those engineering skills.
The glass component is comprised of fused, cut, sheets of colored glass and sliced cane. The cane, a block of 16 variously colored sheets of Bullseye glass (brand name) which Richards takes to the Corning kilns, heats until malleable, uses a steel rod and rakes it (pulls it through) into a 2 inch wide, glass wand, looks like a large multi-flavored peppermint stick. She then slices pieces of the cane, arranges them in a design with other pieces of glass in her studio kiln and slowly raises the heat (up to 1750 degrees) and then lowers it. Richards said most pieces are in for 24 hours. She is 80% sure of the outcome, but there is always the element of surprise…… perhaps she added too many layers, or raised the heat too quickly.
When the Spy commented on the holes in the glass, Richards laughed, called them “kindergarden play” and said everyone asks about them. She explained that she layers pieces in lattice-work fashion and lets the kiln do the work. The kiln formed glass is then inserted into the steel sculpture, designer table, or grid for a wall installation. The wall sculptures are taken through a further firing over a curved stainless steel mold to create depth.
Richards’ work is in high demand; there is a long list of major installations and permanent collections on her website, as well as images of her art, but the Spy highly recommends visiting Richards this weekend for a personal tour of her studio – a very welcome addition to our thriving artistic community.
RiverArts Studio Tour
Kent & Queen Anne’s Counties, MD
Saturday, November 3 & Sunday, November 4, 2012