Shelley Muzylowski Allen on Nature, Glass, and Gender

By Hillary Ryan, Director of Marketing and Communications

Nestled in the North Cascades, Shelley Muzylowski Allen welcomed us to her home and studio, earlier this year, to learn more about her and her work. She shared with us a story about the deer that visit her cherry tree and showed us her amazing collection of rocks, many of which find their way into her sculpture. With her relaxed manner and warm smile, it’s easy to see how her personality is reflected in her approachable and beautiful creations. We look forward to welcoming her back to the Hot Shop this April.

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Horses seem to be the focus of your current work. What is your connection to horses?

Horses have been a recurring form in my work since my early paintings and drawings in childhood. I felt very connected to their form and more importantly, our relationship with them and what they have meant to us and our civilization throughout history.

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About 10 years ago, my father gave credence to this relationship when he told me that he had found evidence that our eastern European family name traced back to early cavalry who roamed the Eurasian Steppes on horseback and were among the early domesticators of horses.

Although many members of my family raised horses, I was never as interested in riding them as I was in drawing or painting them. My feeling of connection to them always made me a little uneasy and I have tried to venture away from rendering their form many times.

Since your last residency at Museum of Glass, what have you been up to?

During my last residency at MOG in 2009, I created a new body of work that I titled the Netsuke Pots—a series that would give reverence to commonplace creatures and would be created devoid of color. This body of work opened up new avenues in my creative thought and allowed me to concentrate on different forms of flora and fauna and gesture and incorporate more narrative in the pieces.

I’ve since been developing these ideas, capturing a moment in time, or timelessness, creating tension in the pieces and exhibiting my work as much as I physically can. I’ve been collecting large rocks and using them to dynamically support the glass form and become part of the visual field. The texture and colors of both rock and glass contrast and complement each other—adding to the visual tension and the composition and feeling evoked being very similar to a scene painted in oils.

In 2012, I was invited to Murano to continue making a body of work with Davide Salvadore that we had started at Pilchuck. I had been intrigued and mystified by the horse-headed violins of Mongolia. We explored that concept and created 12 animal-headed instruments. In 2016, we are planning to make another collaborative body of work.

When I’m not in the hot shop…

I discovered aerial yoga and practice this weekly. Doing inversions and hanging from the silks can decompress and balance my spine after standing on concrete and working asymmetrically in the hot shop. Rik and I also like to get outdoors and hike or go to the San Juan islands on our little Boston Whaler. On these trips I’ve often found the rocks that I use in my work.

What precipitates a collaboration with your husband and fellow artist Rik Allen? How do you plan and work together to execute your collaborative pieces?

Although we don’t work in the hot shop together as frequently as we used to, Rik and I collaborate in many ways in our life together. It often comes in the form of dialogue as we discuss each other’s respective work and offer our insights or ideas to each other. We rely on each other’s strengths and find balance in doing this. Rik and I have taught many workshops and really enjoy teaching together. Our demonstrations are often collaborations made in the hot shop to illustrate effective communication and teamwork as part of our teaching curriculum. We spend time talking about the theme and drawing it until we are both satisfied with the idea and design.

What do you think are the challenges for women working in glass?

Working with glass, especially hot glass requires extreme focus, stamina and perseverance. You have to be willing to work extremely hard and work because you love the medium and not because you have certain expectations of the end result. The learning curve is steep which may deter a number of people of both genders.

The glass world largely in the past was male dominated. I’ve heard from a few women that this held them back from pursuing a career with hot glass. I don’t believe that this is the current situation in this country. The opportunities are out there for both men and women. Men generally have a stronger physical build so in some specific cases that may be the reason for their hiring. Staying healthy and in good physical shape can help for both genders in working with this medium. When I went to Murano, many of the maestros had never seen a woman working at her own bench before.  I was nervous about what their reaction might be but I was treated very well and with respect for my physical space and my work.

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Shelley Muzylowski Allen will be the Visiting Artist in the MOG Hot Shop from April 6 – 10, 2016 through Fuel Their Fire IV. Learn more about her work at muzylowski.com.

 

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