The Queue: Amber Cowan

The Queue: Amber Cowan

Get to know the people featured in the pages of our magazine as they share what's inspiring them right now.

Published on Monday, August 9, 2021.
Blog post cover graphic for The Queue featuring Amber Cowan

Welcome to the Flourish series of The Queue

A biweekly roundup for and by the craft community, The Queue introduces you to the artists, curators, organizers, and more featured in the current issue of American Craft. We invite these inspiring individuals to share personally about their lives and work as well as what's inspiring them right now.

portrait of artist looking up at a series o wall sculptures that look like bunches of flower pedals made from purple glass all hanging on a white wall

Amber Cowan. Portrait by Constance Mensh, courtesy of the artist.

Transforming scrap glass and found objects into sculptures that flourish

Amber Cowan is a sculptural glass artist based in Philadelphia. Her piece Bubble Bath in the Tunnel of Love (see below) is featured in the Flourish issue of American Craft as an example of "stunning art that evokes the ephemeral beauty of flowers." @amber.cowan

How do you describe your work or practice?
I am a glass artist and sculptor. My work is based around the reuse and rejuvenation of American pressed glass. The majority of the material I use is “cullet,” or the scrap glass left after the production run in a glass factory. I take these scraps and, through the process of flameworking and glassblowing, remelt and shape them into the library of components seen in my work. These reformed pieces are supplemented with original antique glass components, which come together to form a story, scene, diorama, or preservation of color and history.

The glass that I use was once discarded scrap wasting away in a junk yard and now lives again, thrives and flourishes.

The past year has presented many challenges, from a global pandemic to renewed urgency around issues of racial equity and police brutality. As we slowly move into a post-pandemic world, how are you finding beauty and staying grounded?
In the beginning of the pandemic I was renovating a building which has become my live/work studio. So, I am pretty self-contained and can be isolated already on a day-to-day basis. This has definitely been helpful for the circumstances of the past year and a half but also leads to a difficult work/life separation, which I think many artists struggle with anyways. I started taking every Sunday to completely separate from the home and studio and go into nature. I like to go for a hike or walk outside the city. I also started roller-skating a few days a week after work, which is a fun and distracting form of exercise.

egg shaped wall sculpture made from countless mint green glass leaves and pedals with two swans moving through a bubbly tunnel mounted on a gray wall

Made from flameworked and pressed jadeite glass‚ Bubble Bath in the Tunnel of Love (2020) by Amber Cowan is currently traveling the country as part of the Objects: USA 2020 exhibition (read more below). This piece is featured in the Summer 2021 issue of American Craft magazine. Photo by Matthew Hollerbush.

The theme of the current issue of American Craft is "Flourish." Can you reflect on that theme as it relates to your work and practice?
I think that visually my work exemplifies the word flourish, and I'm not sure why I don't use it in my writing more often! One of the definitions of the word flourish is "to grow luxuriantly," and I can definitely see that in my work. The glass that I use was once discarded scrap wasting away in a junk yard and now lives again, thrives and flourishes.

What’s one of your go-to or favorite tools in your toolkit that the world should know about?
My favorite and most-used tools on my bench are two pairs of bonsai shears. Bonsai shears are cheap but have super sharp, thin blades, which cut glass like butter. Seventy-five percent of the pieces I create in my work has the cut of a bonsai shear involved.

What’s an exhibition or art project you think the world should know about, and why?
I currently have a piece in the exhibition Objects: USA 2020 now on view through the fall at R & Company Gallery in NYC. I am super proud to be included in this exhibition because of its historical and contemporary significance. Objects: USA 2020 surveys American handmade arts through a curated selection of 100 artists, including 50 of the most impactful contemporary makers working today and 50 historical artists, whose work viewed together is a testament to the diverse, pluralistic, and hybrid state of handmade objects in American culture today.

cover of the exhibition catalog for Objects: USA 2020 published by R & Company and The Monacelli Press

Cover of the exhibition catalog for Objects: USA 2020 published by R & Company and The Monacelli Press.

The exhibition revisits the original Objects: USA show, which opened in 1969 at The National Collection of Fine Arts, now the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The show went on to travel to 33 different venues both domestically and internationally over the course of the next three years, introducing the world to the works of Dale Chihuly, Sheila Hicks, George Nakashima, Art Smith, Ron Nagle, Peter Voulkos, and more.

The contemporary show is curated by Glenn Adamson, Evan Snyderman, James Zemaitis, and Abby Bangser.

If you could purchase any artist's work for your home or studio, whose would it be and why?
If I could have one piece of art (craft) for my home, it would be a sculpture from Mark Peiser's Passage series. These are opalescent castings of sunsets and clouds. Peiser worked for years formulating the chemistry and heat treatment of light scattering glasses, and these pieces are the culmination of that research. The sculptures actually transform throughout the day, changing colors by capturing and exuding the light that enters them. I am completely mesmerized by them, am in awe of the technical achievement, and find them to be of the most spiritual objects I have ever come across.

rainbow shaped glass object refracting subtle warm hues
glass object depicting a sun shining through clouds and refracting subtle warm hues

LEFT: Mark Peiser, Passage 4 (2013), hot cast phase separated glass, granite base, 14.06 x 30.875 x 8.1875 in. RIGHT: Mark Peiser, Passage 11 (2015), hot cast phase separated glass, black glass base, 21.687 x 27 x 8.625 in. Photos courtesy of the artist.

Cover of the Summer 2021 issue of American Craft

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