Meet the Artist: Kait Rhoads and Amy Rueffert

Corning Museum of Glass, April 21, 2008

Hello, I’m Tina Oldknow, the museum’s curator of modern glass. I welcome you to our series of conversations with artists who have made a significant impact on contemporary glass in America and abroad. Today, I will be speaking with two artists, Kait Rhoads and Amy Rueffert, who are not pioneers of studio glass, but who represent a younger generation of artists who are working with glass in fresh new ways.

Kait earned her MFA at Alfred University, just down the road from Corning, and her BFA at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. Amy was recently awarded her MFA from Mills College in Oakland, California, and she received her BFA at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston.

Both Kait and Amy’s art works are represented in the museum’s collections. We have two of Kait’s vividly coloredmurrine and filigrana vessels: a red and black Eye Vase and an orange, black and white closed form, called Persimmon—both great pieces. The museum has an early and eccentric piece by Amy, called Triple: this consists of three salmon-pink blown bottles on a base that are encased in a knitted mohair cozy with three necks. Both Kait and Amy have excellent, well-illustrated websites that I urge everyone listening to this podcast to visit. Please go to www.kaitrhoads.com and www.amyrueffert.com.

Kait and Amy are here in Corning for a month as artists in residence in the museum’s Studio, where they are doing a collaborative residency. Welcome and thank you for taking the time away from the hot shop to talk to me today. I have so many questions to ask you. Your work is so different from each other, but it’s also so stimulating, and I guess the natural question to ask you first is: What are you doing together in your residency, have you ever worked together before?

AMY RUEFFERT: Yes, we have worked together before in different capacities, but never before coming together to work side-by-side, and to make our own work and to bounce ideas off of each other.

KAIT RHOADS: Amy and I met here at Corning about 11 years ago. Kathy Gray was teaching a class and we were both involved in the class. I was a T.A. and she [Amy] was a student. So, it’s actually really exciting to come back to Corning and get a chance to work here side-by-side, although The Studio has changed quite a %%bit%% since its inception— that was the first few years of its starting—and we thought when we made our application to come together that we would enjoy making our own work. And then just talking with each other and experimenting with each other’s techniques to see how it would stretch things, and how it could open up new avenues for each of us in our own work because we don’t fear each other’s appropriation, we actually welcome it.

AMY RUEFFERT: That’s very true, we’re both taking very similar processes and doing completely different things with it. But if you pare it down to its most basic process, it would be exactly the same, and we are really learning from each other and how we are using that process. It’s been a really great place for us to just bounce things off each other and problem-solve together. We have done a lot of problem-solving. It’s been great for the outcome and what we achieved so far, I think.

KAIT RHOADS: We need another three months of residency!! [Laughter]

TINA OLDKNOW:  I wish you would be here another three months; gosh, the work in The Studio looks so great.

KAIT RHOADS:  It’s been so fantastic just to throw everything down and. . .  

AMY RUEFFERT: It’s been such a luxury! I’ve compared it to not having to do the dishes for three weeks.

TINA OLDKNOW:  So, what are some of the things that you’ve gotten from each other? What has the interaction been like? How have you used each other’s knowledge?

 Amy was telling me that she did this wonderful pear-shaped piece with decals, and with reticello, which is not something that she normally does, which adds a really nice dimension to it. Is that the kind of . . . ?

AMY RUEFFERT: Yes, I’ve been watching Kait: she does a lot of really complex and interesting cane and murrinepatterns and her technique is what I’m learning from a lot. So, I’m watching her make her work and it’s helping me realize some ideas that I want to do, and also helping me become more efficient with my own work and do some things that I never thought of doing before spending more time with her.

TINA OLDKNOW:  But you also use the Italian technique of murrine. . .

AMY RUEFFERT: Yes, but only more so recently because I’ve been around Kait. I’ve helped plenty of people working with the techniques, and I’ve assisted many people making Italian-inspired work, but I’ve never really done it myself. So it’s been a huge eye-opener. I’ve learned a lot working with Kait so far.

KAIT RHOADS: I think just the basic fact that Amy and I are very comfortable around each other most days. . .

AMY RUEFFERT: . . . most days. [Laughter]

KAIT RHOADS: Sometimes communication isn’t the best, but we are really comfortable around each other. That we can make mistakes and learn around each other is a huge thing, and so with Amy’s technical aspects—with picking up her tile work and working with that—I can be of assistance in that regard because I’ve been picking up bunches of sloppy stuff for years. And so, just with managing things and then for me in The Studio, it’s that. . . we have been doing a few demonstrations around, and in that way I think we’ve been experimenting a little %%bit%% more. And for me to say, Amy why don’t you try this technique with some stuff that I usually do, and then to see how Amy treats that, and then for me to see the possibilities in her treatment of that technique, and then to take it back into myself with suggestions from her. . . It just opens up these huge avenues, that are pretty incredible.

AMY RUEFFERT: It’s almost never-ending because then I see something she did, and then I take it back and do something else from what she did. . . so it’s really very cool.

TINA OLDKNOW:  So, do you know people who probably could work together like this or do you think that it is a rare thing?

KAIT RHOADS: It depends what part of the country you are talking about, because usually there’s a lot of . . . You know, being females in the glass art sphere, I think that there’s a lot of good communication between a number of artists. Like Nancy Callan and Katherine Gray love working together, and their skill levels are pretty much on par and they have a great time doing that. And if you think of other people who are male within the industry, Dante Marioni loves working with his buddies Paul [Cunningham] and Preston [Singletary]. And those people, I think at a certain time, really gave and received from each other quite a %%bit%% before they established their own vision, and I think that they probably still give and receive to each other, but in more remote ways. I feel that I will always learn from my friends, and learn from what’s out there, and desire to do something new.

TINA OLDKNOW:  And I think that’s also typical of a hot shop situation, where you have a team and you often work with each other and there’s a lot of sharing and  collaboration going on—in any case—in that setup. So that’s really interesting, and you—you, Amy—have kind of come into that, and seen opportunities there that you could use.

AMY RUEFFERT: That’s true, and also that’s the same situation in school, in the university setting, that you learn so much from your peers—guidance and sort of authority, I guess in a way, from your instructors and mentors—but you’re sort of really in it with your peers.

KAIT RHOADS: In a pressure cooker. . .

AMY RUEFFERT: Yes, in a pressure cooker with your peers.

KAIT RHOADS: I miss that about school. I have a number of friends that during the years that I was at RISD and also at Alfred, to be able to have that kind of communication and generosity between people that you can bounce ideas off of each other, and appropriate ideas wildly without repercussions. . . it’s very healthy.

TINA OLDKNOW:  Your work looks so completely different from each other that you would never ever mistake one for the other.

KAIT RHOADS & AMY RUEFFERT: Well, wait about that! [Laughter]

TINA OLDKNOW:  But it’s not like . . .recently, I walked into Barney’s [New York] and saw a total rip-off of Dante. I mean, it’s not like that kind of appropriation, it’s that you are collaborating and doing things your own way and transforming themselves.

AMY RUEFFERT: It’s probably a subconscious thing, but we’ve been calling our studio and the hot shop “school.” Like, When are we going to school? The whole month, we haven’t been able to get out of that habit. Maybe there’s a reason.

TINA OLDKNOW:  The subconscious. . . I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about your own work. Kait, you have had several different paths that you have followed in your work. One of them is your incredible work with murrine—making blown vessels, closed forms, and also your wall-mounted pieces. And the other is your sculpture, which is made out of individual elements that you take . . . I remember those series of emails on the genesis of Red Polyp: 400 hundred hours later you were here, and it’s just incredibly painstaking. How do you work with these vastly different ways of work that you do? Do you do it to take time off from the other way of working, or how does that work out for you?

KAIT RHOADS: I think that, initially, the hollow murrine pieces—the soft sculptural pieces—grew out of trying to make some work during my graduate years. And I started making the tubing for one reason and then ended up seeing it as a building block, as an architectural element, and then understanding that it would probably take a few years or so to be able to get good at it before I could take off and do some interesting things. It just grew. I think that it’s something that just grew out of using it and seeing things, and also the inability to make the scale pieces that I wanted to make out of blown glass. Because I love blowing glass, but it’s very limiting in that you can only make things a certain size. You have to pay a lot of money to be able to do it. You need tons of assistants, so you are always in a group of people to be able to execute your vision. And it’s very, very hard on the body. I just turned 40 at the beginning of this month, and I’ve been trying very hard to take care of my body recently because I just can’t work all the time, which I love doing. And I have to, to eat. So, the soft sculptures are more work that I can do outside of the hot shop, at home and they don’t. . . After the initial cost of producing the tubing and then processing the tubing, then it’s just my hours, by myself, that I can spend with a piece that grows slowly so I have time to really change it and to go back in and rework it. In the hot shop, it’s over in an hour. You don’t have a choice, you have to make all the decisions split-second and then it’s done. Then you can take it to the cold shop and alter it, or add other things to it. I really love the meditational quality of working with the woven work. It’s just very soothing, it’s a great way to exercise my mind in a completely different way than what happens in the hot shop.

TINA OLDKNOW:  What I like is that you are doing vessels and you’re doing sculptural work and you haven’t sacrificed one for the other—I really, really like that. I would love to see more people working that way. . . Dick Marquis does this to a point, and I know that you both know him very well: where he would do a very, very exacting work with murrine, and then he would blow something, and then he would paint something and then assemble it. Always a way to vary his work, but the scale doesn’t change dramatically: with him, it changes somewhat. But for you, for Kait, you can do room-size installations—and actually, in a minute, I’ll talk to you,Amy, about that too—I really like that combination of things. It’s very versatile and I think it’s important. I think that’s a lot of where glass is going in terms of what we are seeing. You know, we still have our great core in the vessel and things like that, but then we’re expanding out to sculpture and installations and different kinds of things. Now, Amy, some of your curios, which I love—like the flowered plates and one of your display logs—have been recently featured in New Glass Review, as has your photography. And I love the Victorian inspiration of the curios and the hyper-reality of the photographs. . . and then there is Bumblebee Nest, which is a black and yellow striped room that you’ve installed with black bees and large green glass grass—they look like safety cones—which I saw on your website, which is really great. And like Kait, you also seem to be working in different ways, in different scales, doing installation work, doing individual vessel forms. Do you want to talk about that a little %%bit%%?

AMY RUEFFERT: Sure. I think that a lot of that was just trying to find my own voice. . . just trying to find what I’m supposed to make, what I’m supposed to be here to make, to contribute to the glass community and the glass world. And I think doing things like Bumblebee Nest were ways for me to explore some ideas that I had early on. I did a lot of installations out of undergrad. More recently, I stopped working with glass for a little while, and I studied with the ceramist Ron Nagle, which opened my eyes to a lot of different things, but in the end I feel like I’m coming full circle. I feel like I started off with glass at a certain place, with certain ideas, and I’ve been around working with a lot of different things, and now I’m back at that point again where I feel like I’m realizing more ideas with the material than I ever thought that I would. So, I had to go away and come back.

TINA OLDKNOW:  Is one of those things getting involved with the ceramic decals?

AMY RUEFFERT: Yes, absolutely, and I did some ceramics work, and explored a lot of work with decals, and then thought one day, Wow, I bet I could incorporate these with glass. And I ended up doing a lot of tests and it’s working out. It’s opened up a whole new avenue.

TINA OLDKNOW:  Yeah, I love the way you fuse the different plaques together and then pick them up in a roll-up technique, and make them into blown forms and then it stretches the patterns out. A completely new way of using these kinds of decals and I really, really love that.

AMY RUEFFERT: Thank you.

TINA OLDKNOW:  I like the retro feel of them. In fact, both of you— and certainly in Kait’s work you see it—it’s in no way a repetition or retro look, it’s more of an inspiration from historical Venetian glass design and from the ’50s, and you [Amy] from the late ’60s, early ’70s . . .

AMY RUEFFERT: Yeah.

TINA OLDKNOW: . . . a lot of forms and colors and patterns. How do you transform those? Because your work seems very of the moment, it doesn’t seem really retro at all.

AMY RUEFFERT: Well, I think that from working with Dick Marquis, he continually reinvents the wheel. Every time he makes new work, it’s always about something that I was like, God, where did this come from? It’s so inspiring to be around that and learn from that. So, I guess that’s always something that inspired me to push the limits and rethink. And of course, being around Kait and seeing how she approaches the material has always been inspiring for me. I bet there’s more, I bet there’s more to get out of this—there always seems like there is more to get out of pushing a concept, which is also sometimes a fault.

KAIT RHOADS: Not just with glass, it’s so easy to get caught in technique, and not everyone. . . I mean there’s just so many different ways to render reticello to make it original.

TINA OLDKNOW:  That’s right and this is a problem.

KAIT RHOADS: There has to be more and I think that Americans lose sight of their ingenuity, that they could use the information they get to push it along, to further our “bubble” of glass, and to break through the barrier of craft. It’s all sort of disappearing at this point because craft is a dirty word. I just think it’s so interesting. I guess my inspiration from when I first started to work with glass, and the glass masters that I ended up meeting, and the stuff that caught my eye was definitely the ’50s glass. But now, recently, I’ve been struck with looking at kimono fabric, which is bringing me right back. . .

TINA OLDKNOW:  You can really see that in your work. It’s beautiful.

KAIT RHOADS: And art nouveau, which all sprang from Japan in the first place. It’s just so interesting to see artists that I wasn’t so into when I started working with glass— like [Emile] Gallé—how incredible their work is, and how I could never do anything like that. I don’t want to carve, or I don’t have a team of carvers who can spend that much time. But you can twist it to your own way of expression, or your own colors that you like, or if you react to something at such a strong level—like, I love kimonos, I don’t know why—and you try to show that to other people. I don’t think that there’s any other way of presenting other than filtering it through your self and giving it a new, “now” spin. That’s the way I like to think about things. Not everybody thinks that way, and it seems that glass people sometimes get a little closed and bottled up with their technique because they learned that they need to repeat the same technique over and over to make money, and that’s the art market and the glass market. I’m guilty of the same thing, for sure, to a certain extent. It’s good to push things, it’s so freeing and it feels good to try new stuff.

TINA OLDKNOW:  I think that it’s important. I’d love to see more of the younger artists at SOFA. They really have been stuck with the established names and I understand it’s very hard to display there, it’s expensive and all those things, but I feel that there’s so much great work—like yours and Amy’s—that I’m not seeing enough of. I really wish I could see more.

KAIT RHOADS: Me too.

TINA OLDKNOW: Hopefully we will, but. . . I love the way both of you have used textiles. Amy, you use those flowered ’70s sheets that you found at the Salvation Army or something, and then Kait looking at kimonos, and probably other textiles as well.

KAIT RHOADS and AMY RUEFFERT: Oh, very much so, American textiles, yes. . .

TINA OLDKNOW:  That use of pattern and colors. . . do you find. . .Is there a really close relationship between textiles and glass for you guys?

AMY RUEFFERT: I’ve been very interested in the Victorian crazy quilt and patchworking and quilting, and it’s been a huge influence lately. And I’m starting to think in this bizarre grid thing, this grid format, all the time.

KAIT RHOADS: We have to get you to a “Gee’s Bend” show, girl!!

AMY RUEFFERT: I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it!

KAIT RHOADS: It really blew my mind.

TINA OLDKNOW: That was amazing. It was amazing.

AMY RUEFFERT:  Absolutely, textiles have been a huge influence.

KAIT RHOADS: I used to study costume design before I came to glass.

TINA OLDKNOW: Oh really?

KAIT RHOADS: So, I really like the whole concept of sewing and putting things together, and some of my early pieces are much more based around the body, encompassing the body. And Roni Horn, she always blew my mind with feathers, feathers, feathers, and all of her different contraptions to cover the body or expose the body or extend the body or. . . It seems to me that glass is just so vessel-like, but it’s just so plastic, you can make anything out of it as long as it wants to do it. [Laughter]. And it can also be very cloth-like in its construction.

TINA OLDKNOW: I like the way you mention Roni Horn, are there other artists whose work you are particularly inspired by?

AMY RUEFFERT: As I mentioned earlier, Ron Nagle, he’s been a huge influence. Mostly, I’ve been thinking about his work a lot in terms of . . . he has the ability to take something that’s three inches tall and make it fill the room. That’s something that. . . I feel like it’s such an amazing gift to be able to do that, and that’s something that I’ve often thought about, how can that happen with what I’m making? That’s been a huge inspiration to me lately because. . . just that element of his work alone.

TINA OLDKNOW: That monumentality, it’s just amazing.

AMY RUEFFERT: Yes, it’s pretty amazing.

KAIT RHOADS: I’ve always been a big fan of Louise Bourgeois. I can’t help it, it’s just that her simplicity. . .

TINA OLDKNOW:  Can’t help it! Why should you want to help it? [Laughter]

KAIT RHOADS: Just this fall I got to see. . . the first piece that I ever saw of hers—in a magazine—that I was really attracted to. . . it was just a very simple, like a staggered cake almost. It’s white plaster and it’s just one level, then another level, kind of a ziggurat style, but round instead of square, up at Dia:Beacon. And I burst into tears in the room, because I was so excited to see it. And I keep forgetting how subliminal her work is and how simple it might seem, and sometimes very geometric or just the softness or just a little %%bit%% of this or that—how powerful it is. It’s all about something we don’t understand, because it’s all about her psyche, and things that really attract me to her work.

TINA OLDKNOW: I saw a show that she did at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore where she put different objects in different galleries and the way. . . Well, you could tell what was her work, but then there were these bright pink labels with her talking about them [the objects]. They were very, very different from your standard museum labels, you can imagine, but it was really inspiring. And after a while, everything in the museum began to look like it was made by her, like it could be. It’s just really a mindset, a way of seeing the world, and any time the objects are a part of that, it’s really interesting. I’m glad that you mentioned that you like her. I know a lot of people working in glass tend to focus on other people working in glass, and I think that it’s great to expand that a little %%bit%%.

AMY RUEFFERT: I guess that’s part of the way we work. Always working under someone, working with someone, mostly to learn technique. You know, but some of us. . . I know I was lucky enough to not just be learning technique, but to be learning about the other things too.

TINA OLDKNOW: One of the reasons I mentioned that you both have BFAs and MFAs is because I think that’s an integral part of this, an essential part of this—and a lot of people disagree with me—is that you went to art school. And I think that one of the great shortcomings of programs which are very good for acquiring technique, such as our Studio or Pilchuck, which is even better at trying to develop the whole artist, is this development of the individual—all aspects of that—helping you learn how to develop content as well as technique, which is so demanding. Do you think. . . do you feel it was something you definitely had to go through, or do you think that you could have gotten to where you are? Or. . . it’s so hard to say!

AMY RUEFFERT:  Absolutely, there’s no way I could have gotten through it without working for other people, being around other people. Because I really didn’t learn about technique until I—sure, I learned about technique when I was in school—but the real profound learning about technique came from going to Haystack, from going to Pilchuck.

TINA OLDKNOW: Okay, that’s good.

AMY RUEFFERT: Working with Dick Marquis, working with Katherine Gray, working with so many people.

TINA OLDKNOW: So you need both, you need the theoretical and you need almost an intensive, technical development, which you are not going to get in a university, because honestly, you just do not have the time in the hot shop.

KAIT RHOADS: I guess so. . . I feel lucky that I went to RISD when I did and I got to work closely with Michael Scheiner during my time there, because he doesn’t really cotton to ladies that much, and also he was so much both of the things that you are talking about: somebody who was so into being perfect technically, and someone who made work that was out-of-hand. And I learned so much from him, whether it was things that I liked to do, or that I didn’t like to do, and then just being in that atmosphere of striving for perfection, almost to an unhealthy point. Art school’s great for a lot of things, but putting expectations in your mind that you’re supposed to live up to is kind of a little destructive to a certain extent, too, because you can’t be happy unless you’ve done all these things that they tell you you’re supposed to do in art school. Well, maybe that’s just me.

AMY RUEFFERT: I think that within that question…

TINA OLDKNOW: I think that is very interesting, a good observation.

AMY RUEFFERT: Within your question there are two very different answers, because we had two very different experiences.

KAIT RHOADS: Definitely!

AMY RUEFFERT: I studied with Dan Dailey, who is a designer. He’s also a maker, but a designer, an amazing designer. And it’s obvious in ways, because of my love of Vitrolite, that I studied with him. [Laughter]

TINA OLDKNOW: No one gets away from Dan without a love of Vitrolite!

AMY RUEFFERT: So, yeah, I think that we both came away from the university, our experiences there, very differently.

KAIT RHOADS: I think that it’s interesting that I ended up working for Sonja Blomdahl for a couple of years. She’s a person who doesn’t vary her form very much, yet every piece is lovely, they have such a beautiful aesthetic, the design is good. She is also one of Dan Dailey’s students. So there’s another circle. She invents her own colors by layering, and they’re so just beautiful. I really learned a lot from that type of repetition, which is so polar opposite from Michael Scheiner, who doesn’t do production. He doesn’t do the same thing twice. He always creates something new and huge, it’s like a monster and it grows on its own.

TINA OLDKNOW: Yet, he also had to do a lot of repetition to become as good a glass blower as he is.

KAIT RHOADS: Well, he did have a production line, I worked on it for a while, but being in the educational system you don’t have an idea of what it’s like to survive outside the educational system. Case in point being one of my teachers, who is Fred Tschida, who I loved very much, his work is amazing, but surviving outside in a gallery-type situation. . .forget about it. Art school is great because it gives you vision, but it doesn’t educate you about the outside so much, sometime, which can be good or bad depending on the person’s character, I think.

AMY RUEFFERT: Or where you went to school.

TINA OLDKNOW: I think that it sounds like you need both. Now, what was the most challenging time for you after school? [Laughter] Or, is it still challenging? Every year is challenging!

AMY RUEFFERT: There were quite a few!

KAIT RHOADS: Just the first year?

AMY RUEFFERT: I think that the most challenging for me was when I was, Okay, I’ve had enough of this. I decided that I’d had enough of glass. I was tired of struggling, I was just like, oh God, and I went back to grad school. Which, in a sense, just got me back into glass! So, I was thinking that I was going to work production, and I was going to have a production line, and then I decided that it just wasn’t for me. And so I went back to grad school and studied other mediums besides glass, and then got back into glass. I don’t think that it was a week, it was a month, after I graduated—gotten my MFA—that I was teaching a class at Pilchuck. So, it was a temporary hiatus, I think. And it was a very difficult time.

TINA OLDKNOW: I think that it’s really hard. You need to either subsidize your work by making some sort of production work, or you need to teach. It’s kind of. . . I think that a lot of people, and maybe they do or they don’t realize that it’s very hard to make a living just from your work, you know, the individual sculptural work. To me, it’s an inspiration to see how different artists work that out, and how they stay with it. And some people don’t have a choice, they have to stay with it. A lot of people have been lost along the way, you know, who are really very. . .

KAIT RHOADS: Who were amazing artists. . .

TINA OLDKNOW: Who were really good artists.

KAIT RHOADS: People who I went to school with. Women have children, they stop making art. Marriage. You can’t do everything for yourself anymore. . .

AMY RUEFFERT: There are times where I still feel very lost, and still feel lost along the way.

TINA OLDKNOW: I think that I can talk to. . . I can say the same thing about artists who I talk to that have been extremely successful in every sense of the word, artistically, financially, and they’re still like, Well, I don’t know. I think that it’s a common thing.

AMY RUEFFERT: I also think that’s what keeps me going to some extent.

TINA OLDKNOW: The challenge of it?

AMY RUEFFERT: Yeah, I do.

KAIT RHOADS: I definitely think that maybe the hardest time in my life in glass was going to grad school to try to change things. . .so I wouldn’t have to work for other people so much. But then coming out of grad school, going away to Italy for a year, coming home and having to do that transition. . .going to the same town where I worked for other people for years. So, it was the year after graduation, and that transformation into an artist that shows just their own work, who doesn’t work for other people so much, who puts her heart and soul—because it’s like starting a business, putting your heart and soul into something—and having to deal with the waiting, like, waiting for years to sell work, waiting to get good representation. Trying to be aggressive about getting the representation and not being able to get it. It’s like a maze. . .

AMY RUEFFERT: There’s only so much waiting you can do.

KAIT RHOADS: You feel like the cheese is on that side, and I know it’s there, and I know what it tastes like, but how do I get there without stepping on feet? And without. . . just doing the right thing, doing the right thing with making the right work. I applaud Amy, because I know she’s right there in the beginning of that right now.

AMY RUEFFERT: Yes, I do feel it.

KAIT RHOADS: Seems like a scary place to be.

AMY RUEFFERT: Yes, it’s scary!

KAIT RHOADS: I don’t know if it gets any less scary. I guess you just get used to it. The stress just settles in.

TINA OLDKNOW: So you live in Seattle now, Kait, and [Amy], you live in Champaign?

AMY RUEFFERT: Urbana, Illinois. Yes, I just moved there recently.

TINA OLDKNOW: From San Francisco?

AMY RUEFFERT: Yes, from San Francisco. Which, actually, they just closed the glass program there. Unfortunately!!

TINA OLDKNOW: I know! So what are you going to do for a hot shop?

AMY RUEFFERT: I did just get a position teaching adjunctly at Illinois State University, and I’ll be using their hot shop.

TINA OLDKNOW: Is that in Normal?

AMY RUEFFERT: Yes, it’s only about an hour away.

TINA OLDKNOW: They have a long-established glass studio there.

AMY RUEFFERT: But, I’ve been fortunate enough this year to do residencies. I’ve done residencies at Ox-Bow and at Ohio State and here at Corning. So, those three times have kept me going this year.

TINA OLDKNOW: How about you, Kait, whose hot shop do you use, where do you blow?

KAIT RHOADS: I was just thinking about that today. I used to work at Paul Cunningham’s studio, but he’s shutting down at the end of this month.

TINA OLDKNOW: Oh, he is?

KAIT RHOADS: So, I’m hoping to woo my way back into Ben Moore’s studio, if possible. But, I’ve been using another studio called Viscosity, and that’s in Columbia City in Seattle. And in every studio there’s a different type of glass, basically, and for my work, I can’t mix glasses because I use too much color. So, I have incompatibility issues down the line. My studio is full of boxes labeled with different types of glass and I keep it all separate. So, I don’t know, when I go back, I don’t know. I have a residency down in Wheaton, down in Millville, Wheaton Village.

TINA OLDKNOW: Is that one of the three-month residencies?

KAIT RHOADS: No, no, it’s six weeks. I did the three months, 11-12 years ago, and I don’t think I can leave my cat that long, or my life! Six weeks is perfect. Enough for me to drive myself into the ground but not. . . and have time to recover. It’s hard when there is a studio and you can work all you want to, to take the time off to take care of yourself. I have a hard time with that.

TINA OLDKNOW: I bet you guys are feeling pretty wasted now.

AMY RUEFFERT: A little %%bit%%.

TINA OLDKNOW: You’ve been working pretty hard.

AMY RUEFFERT and KAIT RHOADS: We’ve been doing pretty good.

KAIT RHOADS: We’ve taken some time off here and there.

AMY RUEFFERT: I forgot to mention that I had one really important residency this year, which was at the Tacoma Museum of Glass. I got the chance to work with, like, such an amazing team of glass blowers there, who made work that I wanted to see realized. So, that was another really important thing that I did, and I want to recognize those guys.

KAIT RHOADS: And likewise I have to say the same. I had a collaborative residency with Scott Darlington this year, and we worked on Geishas pretty much, and it was so great because we would just work on the same piece all day long. And not many survived but it’s really. . .I think that this year is about collaboration for me, to a certain extent.

AMY RUEFFERT: Collaboration and residency.

KAIT RHOADS: Yeah, and that’s fine with me.

TINA OLDKNOW: So what do people like your colleagues do, who. . .people who. . . I mean, it’s almost like nobody can afford a studio anymore with the energy costs, and it seems to me that there’s got to be more co-op studios, or do you guys use public access studios?

AMY RUEFFERT: All of the above, and I think people are becoming smarter with turning off their studios, and having studios that are easy to turn on and turn off.

KAIT RHOADS: Electric furnaces.

AMY RUEFFERT: More co-op situations.

KAIT RHOADS: I’ve been talking to my friends more and more about the future, about what we’re going to do, where we’re going to work, because all the places are closing down. And how we need to plan to maybe have our own place, but not alone, but cooperatively.

TINA OLDKNOW: Right.

KAIT RHOADS: But still that’s a lot.

TINA OLDKNOW: Sure. It’s tough.

KAIT RHOADS: Like having kids.

TINA OLDKNOW: It’s tough. You know, who is the person who is ultimately in charge of the studio? And all of those kinds of things. I know, here, we are just beginning to look into greener energy sources for studios and things like that. I know that a lot of artists are interested in that.

KAIT RHOADS: Also, I think that with the greener issue, the green issue being very hot right now. . . As a glass artist, it’s very difficult to think about how much natural resources are being used just to make the work. It’s a little daunting, but it’s unfortunate that after 15 or 17 years at it. . . What else can I do but do this decadent thing that lasts forever, and it’s a great substance, it’s not toxic in its own right, and it’s a wonderful thing!

TINA OLDKNOW: Actually it [glass] can contain toxic wastes. Maybe that’s an area to go into. . .just kidding! [Laughter]

KAIT RHOADS: I’ll tell Rachel Moore in Chicago!

TINA OLDKNOW: I think that one of the ways that you found yourself around that—the studio situation—is doing the soft forms, the sculptural pieces.

KAIT RHOADS: I can spend a day making tubing and that stuff can last me for a year or two.

TINA OLDKNOW: And certainly [Amy], the warehouse of ceramic decals that you just bought on eBay will keep you busy!

AMY RUEFFERT: Lots of recycling. Not to mention the knitting, much more eco-friendly!

TINA OLDKNOW: You [Amy] actually combine a lot of materials in your work. Maybe not more than you [Kait].

KAIT RHOADS: I’m actually just starting to experiment with mohair. I found this great place in New York, it’s a Japanese textile distributing spot, so I’ve been weaving the mohair into the soft sculpture. We just started with it, and it’s super delicate, and has this. . . we’re going to be working with some cloud forms. I have a lady who works for me for the last year, and she does—she is a textiles person—and she does the weaving with me. And so I’m training her up to do more complicated things, slowly and slowly. It’s been really nice, because I can’t use my hands every day, all the time. It just doesn’t. . . I’ve had carpal tunnel since I started working with glass. I maintain that carpal tunnel well. And also, for the large pieces, I need to have help to realize them in a timely fashion. But, I like other materials. At Alfred, it was really great because I could use whatever material I felt like using to incorporate into the work. I miss that. I’d love to get back to that, can’t wait to have the luxury to have a wood shop, to have a hot shop. . . in the compound.

TINA OLDKNOW: In the compound [laugher]. The fantasy compound! Which is not a bad idea, and certainly in a place like Seattle, where there are so many glassblowers and so many people who could conceivably share resources. That maybe, that would maybe be a direction to go. . .Where do you see. . .when you are doing this work together and you’re doing work collaboratively—besides maybe combining more materials in the work—where else do you see yourself going? What would you like to do next in terms of experimentation? Do you have any idea, or are you just so wrapped up in trying to figure out what you are doing now?

AMY RUEFFERT: I think that I’m so wrapped up in the moment. Like, I do have. . .

TINA OLDKNOW: This is relatively new for you, what you’re doing.

AMY RUEFFERT: Yes, this is relatively new—just about the last year and a half, almost two years now—so it’s been so new and such a shift. Even though there is still so much visually in the work that is reminiscent of older things that I have done, it still feels, it feels like I’m finding out the work I’m supposed to be making right now, and that’s it. So it’s very new, and I’m very entrenched in the moment. So, it’s hard for me, even though I have plenty of ideas about things that I want to do in the future.

TINA OLDKNOW: Sure, you really need to focus and try to figure this out. You’ve changed, Kait, a lot in the kind of work that you’ve been making over the course of your career, because you go back and forth between the sculptures and the vessels and you do different kinds of things. Has that been difficult for you in terms of people who know you as an artist, or has that been okay?

KAIT RHOADS: It’s interesting, I think that certain collectors or certain people that look at glass art can’t really understand that I’ll do the different things, sort of at the same time, because I work so hard to promote the vessels—since probably 1999. And my last year at Alfred, here, where I ended up winning a student prize with thePeacock vessels, was a debut type of thing. So, during that time, I’ve really been pushing that hard, even though I keep doing the sculpture or keep experimenting or trying different things. . . I think that it’s tough for people to swallow that I’ve been debuting the soft sculptures since around 2005, in Seattle, maybe 2005. In New York, just this past year, I started showing the work. And you saw the show that I had at Chappell Gallery, and that’s the first time I’ve had a combination of vessels, the wall-mounted pieces, and the soft sculptures together in one space.

TINA OLDKNOW: I thought that it was really strong.

KAIT RHOADS: It was really great experience for me, because other galleries are usually interested in just one of those types of works, and they’re very recalcitrant at accepting the other works and showing them alongside, because it’s disparate qualities to them. To me, I don’t find the qualities that much different to a certain extent, because I believe the soft sculptures are made out of hollow murrine. It’s all about points of color.

TINA OLDKNOW: But it’s about your forms, your patterns, your color. It’s always you. It’s very distinctively yours.

KAIT RHOADS: I think it’s just interesting that I really started out with art. I painted for years before I became enamored with sculpture, before I knew sculpture was a possibility. So, I guess that the color will always inform every single object that I make, it’s just very evident with it. But, I forgot what the original question was.

TINA OLDKNOW: Well, I have another one for you which is. . .I always ask this and it’s kind of a. . .I don’t know, it’s not a trick question, but it’s a question that I do ask artists and that is: What do you love the most about glass, and what do hate the most about it?

AMY RUEFFERT: It’s probably almost the same thing. It’s working with people and having to work with people. You know, sometimes that’s the big one for me. And sometimes—I used to feel like this a lot—I used to be. . . I have a really good friend from Australia, Clare Belfrage.

TINA OLDKNOW: I love her work, she’s great.

 AMY RUEFFERT: I talk to Clare a lot. I used to complain about not being able to, I never had ideas just in glass. And that used to be the thing that I hated the most, that I don’t think in glass, you guys all think in glass. But now I’m coming to a point where I’m thinking in glass. So, that used to be something that I hated and I loved. So, it’s always the same thing, I feel. It’s the same concept that you have a love/hate relationship with.

KAIT RHOADS: I think for me, because I like to work with a lot of color in the glass, that the one thing that I love about glass is that it’s a material that has its own voice. When I come to work with the glass, when I have an idea of what I want to get done, then I approach glass with that idea and we start talking about it, we’re in the middle of things. Then the glass has a lot to tell me about what it thinks of my idea, and I have to handle that, so it’s sort of like managing a bad situation, or to me. . . I have issues if things don’t go my way. I have a hard time. So in glass, I’m constantly having to accept what glass has to tell me, like, Okay, we are not going to make a round shape right now. But that is okay! I’m going to look at this, I’m going to try to find the most beautiful thing about it, the thing that I respond to the most, and how I can work with that form. Whether it’s a vessel or if it’s some other type of form, how can I work with the glass to create something that’s still beautiful? Because, I love beauty. Beauty is like. . .I mean, I think our society lacks a pursuit of beauty to a certain extent. . . But that also is the most frustrating thing for me, is that I can’t pile so much color on this piece of glass and have it turn out to be a form that is definitely what I wanted. Like, I did this drawing, this is what I want, and boy, well, I don’t think I’m going to get it. But, I discovered something amazing! So I think that has really influenced the way that I work. I recently was commissioned to do a Kelp chandelier for someone out of solid-work pieces, and I put off for months sending them drawings because I couldn’t draw it. Because I don’t develop things on paper, it’s in my head and it’s as it happens. That’s the only way that I can let a piece grow, is by experiencing the glass and seeing how the glass moves, and seeing what can happen, and then being able to work with that and incorporate that into something.

TINA OLDKNOW: It’s really interesting for me to hear that because your work—you were talking about it earlier, it being so perfectionist—your work is very perfect. I would never use the adjective loose or spontaneous because your work—although it doesn’t look static in any way, it looks very dynamic—it has a very carefully thought out quality about it. It’s neat to hear you say stuff like that.

KAIT RHOADS: Making the murrine work and making sculptural work with just some powder on it, it’s two sides of the brain for me. . . But with all the color, and all the murrine, it’s always been schlock-wrangling for me. I’m not a—well, if I practice at it, I could be a very technical glassblower, reticello and filigrana, and I’m great friends with Nancy Callan, and I think she is a champion of all that tightness and control and making beautiful things. But in a way, I see myself as more like, did I just manage all the mischief that’s happening in the piece and get it there?

AMY RUEFFERT: She is like the master of controlled chaos.

TINA OLDKNOW: That’s a good way to put it.

KAIT RHOADS: Come to my studio!

AMY RUEFFERT: In working with her, I see there is such a. . . it’s chaos.

TINA OLDKNOW: I think when you have that, that’s what makes the piece fresh, it doesn’t make it static. Like, as good as many people are with the Italian techniques, sometimes they’re kind of stiff. It’s almost like they are almost too controlled. You need a little %%bit%% of life in there, and usually the best Italian, the Venetian maestros, can do that because they know the material so incredibly well.

KAIT RHOADS: Like Alfredo Barbini. . .

AMY RUEFFERT: I feel like that is where I am not as technique-orientated. I understand how to do a lot of things. I have knowledge about the material, and I know what it can do, for the most part, but I also know who can make it much better than I can and I’m very interested in that. I have a lot of great friends who are just amazing technicians and who do everything so perfectly. I don’t have that in me completely.

TINA OLDKNOW: I guess I don’t think that’s a problem. As long as you either A) love to do it yourself, and prefer that or B) know where to do it. . .

AMY RUEFFERT: It’s incredible to me, it always sets me, I’m always surprised at how people will be like, Oh, well, she didn’t make that, she had so-and-so make it. Or, they will be very quick to point out that, Oh, she had this work made elsewhere.

KAIT RHOADS: Well, that’s the 20-year-old boy.

AMY RUEFFERT: It’s not, you’d be very surprised. It’s not just the 20-year-old boy.

TINA OLDKNOW: I think that it’s a point of view that is very old fashioned now.

AMY RUEFFERT: It is.

KAIT RHOADS: In America.

TINA OLDKNOW: Well, now, when everyone is getting their work fabricated everywhere. Even when die-hard people like Fritz Dreisbach have other people blow his work for him. This is not the time to make distinctions on who is making your work and who fabricated it for you, or made parts of it for you. I just see that as not an issue, but apparently for some people it is.

AMY RUEFFERT: It’s surprising to me. I’m always like, Oh I forget, sometimes we are not that forward-thinking.

TINA OLDKNOW: What about the quality of the material? What would you say is the quality of the material itself that you exploit the most, or are most interested in its ability to do?

AMY RUEFFERT: Lately it’s been lens magnification. Those are more ways that I’ve been thinking. But also I like glass’s ability to look like plastic, or something else. That’s always been. . .

TINA OLDKNOW: It’s a great mimic.

AMY RUEFFERT: It’s always been a huge inspiration for me to make glass look like plastic and to make plastic look like glass. That idea, that chameleon effect that glass has, has always been very inspirational.

TINA OLDKNOW: We have incredible historical pieces in the museum, where glass looks like porcelain or jade or turquoise or jet or leather or all kinds of different kinds of things. It is an incredible mimic. What about you [Kait]?

KAIT RHOADS: The ceramist. Usually. . .At Alfred, I remember discussions over which material is more plastic, ceramics or glass. Of course, the ceramists would kind of win on that, but glass is very plastic, and you can do anything with it. I love it for that ability. Also, I think that I’m learning. . . After looking at my work and seeing how it has developed, because sometimes when you’re making stuff—I don’t understand it for five years, basically, what I’m making—but I think I’m after the line, like a curvy line. I think that’s what’s my work is about, a nice curvy line, and glass can make a nice curvy line.

TINA OLDKNOW: What about color though?

KAIT RHOADS: Oh, well, there’s got to be the color. Color in glass never fades, which is lovely, and I think that’s a really big thing. And lately, it’s been that I like the depth in glass. With the Japanese textiles and also with the painting, there’s the background, foreground, middle ground, and so there is different layers. Things can happen in different layers of the glass that can make it completely three-dimensional, atmospheric, without it being super thick. Or having it be super thick and having it be incredibly dimensional and atmospheric. Lately, I’ve been really interested with that, although it makes a piece wicked heavy, and you need about two to three really strong guys who don’t mind hauling it around.

AMY RUEFFERT: Not always. . .

KAIT RHOADS: It seems like that’s what I usually have, because I’m finding here, Oh I’m missing something, like. . .

TINA OLDKNOW: I like the way you talked about having a background, a middle ground, a foreground, because you can see that in your glass. It must be something to do with your painting training, and I do love that because there is an amazing depth there that sometimes I don’t see elsewhere.

KAIT RHOADS: I think that it’s interesting, because even making the work here, I’m fighting against the Italian training that I’ve had for so long in the back of my head. When I learned about everything being clean, about not mixing things, not putting too much together, keep it straight, keep it straight, keep it perfect, keep it, you know, all the control issues that you were talking about with the Italian glass and the people who make the same form over and over and over again. They would just scream with frustration if they worked with me, because I look at it and say, This can go two ways! Like, with all the experimentation and throwing bunches of stuff on it, there’s going to be parts I like, there’s going to be parts I don’t like, and there’s always a time of growth. So, I feel a residency here is so important for me right now because I want to try all these new things, but I’m worried that they are not going to look good on the piece and I’ll have spent all day on a piece and I’ve paid all day for that piece and hiring people, and it will just sit in my studio forever .

AMY RUEFFERT: That’s been a really tough thing. . .

KAIT RHOADS: Yeah, a tough thing. . .

TINA OLDKNOW: Well, it’s very hard to experiment with blowing on your own time and your own dime. It’s really, really hard, you don’t want to, and so that is the point of the residency. It’s to give you that time and space to just make mistakes and do things that don’t work out, do things that do work out . . . all those things.

AMY RUEFFERT: They have been so wonderful to us over at The Studio. It’s been like, What do you need today? What can I do for you? They have just been so great.

KAIT RHOADS: All going to my head.

AMY RUEFFERT: It’s been not having to dishes for a month!

KAIT RHOADS: It’s been fantastic, and I keep wanting to work myself to death because it’s all there.

AMY RUEFFERT: It is! It’s very hard not to get there the second The Studio opens and get kicked out and made to go home.

TINA OLDKNOW: Right, right. You are doing great work, and thanks a lot for taking time away from the hot shop. And the cold shop.

AMY RUEFFERT: Hey, let’s not. . . I have to represent [the cold shop]!

TINA OLDKNOW: Let’s not forget the cold shop! But anyway, thanks again.

AMY RUEFFERT: Thank you, Tina.

KAIT RHOADS: Thank you, Tina, for taking time out to do this as well.


Special thanks to Laura Mann for volunteer transcription.