by TERESA ANNAS photography by TODD WRIGHT
Norfolk philanthropists Doug and Pat Perry wanted to foster the city’s growing interest in glass art, so two years ago they started work on a project that would ultimately become the Glass Wheel Studio.
The new space, on West Olney Road in the NEON arts district, opened in November with a dozen mostly Norfolk-based artists in residence and two galleries for changing exhibitions of cutting-edge art. It’s a few blocks from the Chrysler Museum of Art’s glass studio, which the Perrys also were crucial to establishing. (Doug Perry is co-founder of Dollar Tree, a Fortune 500 company.)
Glass Wheel is unique as a place where artists who work in glass and other media can share ideas, critique one another and even collaborate. Visitors are welcome. But while most of the artists love pop-ins, they will shut their doors if immersed in a project.
So, here’s a peek into what’s behind those doors, closed or otherwise.
Ali Feeney | Studio 201
Feeney, 23, works primarily in glass but blends in fabric, neon or whatever else is needed to tell a story. Her latest narrative digs into the fluid nature of memory, and features images of mountains, wild animals and family photos from her Colorado childhood. The series was inspired by communication with her birth mother, which led her to re-evaluate her memories as an adoptee. She moved to Norfolk last June, after graduating from Alfred University, to work in the Chrysler Museum glass studio.
Jenn Sleeper | Studio 203
Sleeper works in stained glass but with a surprising angle: She depicts human anatomy. She spent years as an ultrasound technician, took up stained glass, and designed and made a see-through liver, which shows both the organ’s front and back sections better than drawings can. That innovation prompted the artist, now 41, to start a series, still in progress. “I’ve got all kinds of anatomical ideas buzzing around,” she says. One example: a nervous system with light throbbing through, suggesting electrical pulses.
Heidi Peelen | Studio 204
Peelen, 26, is bothered by her fellow millennial women who expose themselves, hyping their lives, showing too much on social media. Her female portraits marry scanned drawings to digital wizardry. In her studio, she’s developing a new series, perhaps building on her drawings of smoking women, with snarky captions.
Hannah Kirkpatrick | Studio 205
Just outside Kirkpatrick’s studio is a signature public artwork at Glass Wheel. Her Labor of Love EKG, set high on an exterior wall, is a 24-foot-long installation with a neon EKG floating over the painted title phrase. The concept pairs the idea of an artist’s labors with a heartbeat. Kirkpatrick, 27, moved to Norfolk in 2011 to work at the Chrysler’s glass studio after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design. She focuses on light as a material, using glass, photography and neon. Her first studio project was to build a camera obscura out of a crate for a show at the glass studio.
Maggie Bush | Studio 301
Bush retired from the Navy in 2012 and went after her long-desired art degree from Old Dominion University. Now 48, she’s painting gargantuan women who are less than perfect, with bellies bulging out of tight jeans, or ludicrously perfect, such as Venus on a treadmill. “In my work, I like to throw off the ideal image. You’re perfect exactly as you are.”
Neal Robinson | Studio 302
The only man in the studio’s first batch of artists, Robinson, 37, focuses on photography and humor. At Glass Wheel, the ODU photography instructor can be found Photoshopping images and crafting captions for his latest series, @#%!*s and Giggles. An example is his photo of a candy store named IT’SUGAR, with the caption “It’s diabetes.” “I think the world needs more humor,” he says. “I believe there is a place for both high and low art. But I would like my work to land somewhere in between.
Evelyn Robertson | Studio 303
Robertson takes on the challenge inherent in landscape painting: how to convey the feeling of standing before a natural wonder. The 23-year-old Yale University graduate snagged a fellowship in 2014 to tour waterfalls in the Appalachian region. She returned with sketches and an idea. “What I want to do is replicate the emotional content of a natural scene,” she says. Her solution is to do it abstractly, using poured-on layers of runny paint that resemble watery veils.
Caitlin Blomstrom | Studio 304
The 26-year-old Newport News artist studied painting and printmaking at Virginia Commonwealth University and came to Glass Wheel to create a body of work that explores how wall brackets and glass cases safeguarding museum art actually become part of it. The research part is easy: She’s a gallery host at the Chrysler Museum of Art.
Amanda Page Stephens | Studio 305
Stephens, 39, works in what she calls “process art.” She encourages children at festivals to squirt paint on her work, or friends at parties to spill wine on it. “It challenges my audience about who makes art, how it’s made and where it’s made.” The Portsmouth artist, who studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, has been contemplating a piece using pill vials as a way to critique mental health treatment.
Charlotte Potter | Studio 306
Potter, 34, runs the Chrysler’s glass studio and is a nationally exhibited pioneer in performance and conceptual art using glass. Her works include a sculptural self-portrait made of microscope slides and the widely shown Charlotte’s Web – profile photos of her Facebook friends crafted as glass cameos. Her recent work uses lenticular lenses, which offer different views from opposing angles. Her subject: the polarization of America. “All of my work is about relationships, and the way we interact with other people.”
Sarah Vaughn | Studio 307
Vaughn, 30, began her studio residency by making wax models for sculptures to be cast in glass. She finished her master’s in glass sculpture in 2014 at Rochester Institute of Technology, and moved to Norfolk the following year to assist at the Chrysler glass studio. Her latest series consists of cast-glass stones precariously stacked, much like the trail-marking rock stacks she encountered while hiking in the U.S. and Scotland. Rocks, like bad memories, soften over time, she says. But if a trauma occurs and the rock breaks and the memory is stirred, the rough edges can cut as much as the initial experience.
Gayle Forman | Studio 308
Forman bubbles over with buoyant notions of how glass can be incorporated into conceptual and performance art. An example is the 23-year-old artist’s swing set on which she can sit, swing and blow glass, part of her “idea of a playground being analogous to a glass studio.” After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2014, she came to Norfolk to work in the Chrysler glass studio. At Glass Wheel, she’ll enjoy having close access to fellow artists. “I find that I work really well when I have people to bounce ideas off of. I usually talk about my ideas a million times before I get anything down.”
And what of Studio 202? It exists, and its artist is expected in March.