The Magical Artistry & Alchemy of April Wagner

Molten Sensuality & Crystalline Creations of Custom Blown Glass Creator on Display at Saginaw Art Museum Through January 2019

    icon Oct 18, 2018
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The mesmerizing, enticing and profound illumination provided by glass has captivated the innate inspiration of humanity since the earliest manual documenting its creation in 650 BC was found in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal.

Glass can be clear, transparent, translucent, or opaque; it can be blown, molded, rolled, or spun. It can be produced in every color of the rainbow and provide protection from the elements; it can be formed into vessel to hold medicine at the same time it can be used to scar the body. And its uses are continuously evolving: from the functional uses employed by the Ancient Egyptians to the screens used on your cell phone in the 21st Century.

For blown-glass artist extraordinaire April Wagner glass it truly about the magic of alchemy - a marriage between science and imagination that creates a physical transformation of elements found in nature - that makes it so powerful.  And her new glass exhibit entitled Molten Sensuality:  The Crystalline Creations of April Wagner that is now on display and open the public at the Saginaw Art Museum through January, 2019, brings the fiery visualizations of her fascination and respect for glass to full display.

This ambitious and breathtaking 6,000 sq. ft. exhibition is not to be missed. It serves as both a retrospective of her work spanning more than two decades, while also featured a new custom hanging installation designed specifically for this show. It shows the evolution of Wagner’s glass artwork from her early ‘Volcano’ and ‘Splash’ series, to sculptures and wall pieces documenting the evolution of custom installations including chandeliers, wall sculptures, and iconic freestanding pieces.

A multi-media video component is also included in the exhibit  focusing upon the glassmaking process.  Here Wagner explores the many ways in which glass can be manipulated through its various phases, using 2,000 degree furnaces, applied pressure, gravity and force to create elegant shapes and vibrant colors.

Born in Muskegon, Wagner dates her fascination with glass back to her formative years spent on the silica-rich beaches of Lake Michigan. Silica also happens to be an essential ingredient in glass. “Muskegon has the most beautiful beaches in the world. Fine with sand, clear blue water, which I’ve always loved being around. I would sit at the end of the driveway of my grandmother’s country house fashioning rudimentary sculptures and vessels out of its clay, she reflects.

April transferred to Interlochen Fine Arts Academy, where she worked in ceramics and metal-shifting; but it wasn’t until she enrolled at the New York State College of Ceramics that she became enamored with glass blowing.

“In college I discovered molten glass as a material,” said Wagner. “It was love at first sight and in the 24 years since, nothing has changed. Glass captivates me with its seductive allure. In my work I try to capture the fluidity and grace of the glass without over-tooling and marring it. The physical act of creating glass, taking raw material and breathing life into it, defines my place in the universe. Using this material requires skills that take years to master and I am somewhere in the middle of my journey,” shares Wagner.

“Glass is a very responsive material and very interactive with you,” she continues.  “With ceramics the glazing process is quite long, which causes one to lose interest; whereas with glass you have a short finite amount of time before it doesn’t want to work with you anymore. With glass the quicker you work the better,” she explains. “Plus, with glass you’re doing it as a team. In my studio now I have four glass assistants at varying and different skill sets, which is essential.”

Wagner opened her Epiphany Studio in Pontiac, Michigan in 1993, where she makes both functional and sculpture works in glass – bridging both fine and decorative art. Her work has been featured in Detroit Home Magazine, HOUR Detroit and more, and she made the 40-Under-40 list of the most talented, driven and dynamic professionals under the age of 40 in Crain’s Detroit Business. 

“I am intrigued by the process of blowing glass into linear and organic shapes,” explains Wagner.  “Then I play with them in space. By turning, twisting, or repeating the shapes I investigate their relationship to the floor, wall, or tabletop. In creating multiples and assembling the shapes together, almost like found objects, I create large scale pieces. I use color to push and pull the eye around or up and down the piece.”

“My intention is to create objects that are captivating to look at in their environment. Whether a private, public, or corporate space I choose the colors, shapes, and scale of the work in direct response to that specific environment and that viewer. Ultimately the viewer must consider the fragility, strength, and beauty of this material.”

When asked if glass blowing is formulaic and meticulous or an intuitive process, she intimates that it’s a bit of both. “I’m still figuring stuff out,” she laughs. “It takes a real long time because you can’t touch the glass with your hands and need to work with tools, which are extensions of the hand. Some things I am very good at some things I am not, mainly because I’m left-handed and the proper way to blow glass is a right-handed approach. Consequently, many of the tools such as trimming shears are designed for right-handers. I can do it, but I’m not graceful with it by any means, which is why I rely upon my team.”

Insofar as the art of alchemy and transformation are central to her work, where does she get her ideas?

“Because glass blowing consists of taking a molten material and transforming it from a liquid to a solid, I try to capture that liquidity in the final piece, which is very important to me. So all my work has this motion in it that reflects the notion of liquidity. The canvas of nature and the breadth of material to take inspiration from is so large that I never tire of it.  That’s why I was so attracted to the garden here at the Saginaw Art Museum, because I feel it’s the life of the space. It was the inspiration for making the custom wave staircase piece that I created for this exhibition - to bring the outside in.”

When asked about the most challenging component involved working with glass, April references its fragility. “This work is so very fragile that moving it is just as demanding as creating it. Once an object is sold that takes it to this extra level of preciousness to me, so when a collector loans me one of my pieces that they purchased, it becomes incredibly stressful because I cannot ever reproduce it again.”

“We’re naturally drawn to glass materials, we are surrounded by it and see it in all these different places,” concludes Wagner. “It’s clear and it sparkles and allows us to see, not only under water but also in outer space. It can improve our vision. It’s such a seductive material - soft but sharp and intriguing to people for those reasons. Whenever you see a piece of glass on the beach you pick it up because you are drawn by the illumination of it. Glass loves light - to reflect it and refract it. It shows us all kinds of things.”

April Wagner is a world-class glass artist and widely recognized for her incredible talent,” adds Stacey Gannon, executive director of the Saginaw Art Museum.  “Her exhibition, “Molten Sensuality:  The Crystalline Creations of April Wagner,” is one of the most interesting exhibitions we’ve curated at the museum.  Full of color, texture and illumination – it is not a show to be missed.”

A public question and answer session with glass artist April Wagner, owner of epiphany glass studio, will be held on Wed., Oct. 17, from 6 – 8 p.m. at the Saginaw Art Museum.  The public is invited to this free event, and no reservations are required.


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