Updated: Jun 5, 2021
A sculptor forging a path of prosperity
By: Krysta Kearney
Amy Crawford, a professional glass and metal artist of 15 years has graced the nation with a humble presence yet fierce and determined outlook on living life to its fullest potential. By always being true to herself and her passions, she has thus far had a meaningful life and career of growth. She exudes strength and love for herself, art, and for those around her. Her fearless nature has led her to work in hot shops and foundries from city to city, coast to coast.
As a sculptor she has consciously decided to become an expert in a variety of materials, ensuring that she can make a living through doing what she loves. So what is glass and what is metal? Both of these materials are magical in their own right. In ways they are very similar, and can be sculpted, manipulated and melted. Glass is made up of sand, and rocks that are often high in silica and when exposed to high-temperature heat (upwards of 3000 degrees) it forms a liquid that artists can then form and create objects out of. Once cooled it holds its structure and integrity. Metal is made of a variety of elements that are found in nature and are typically extracted by mining practices. Artists use a variety of techniques to manipulate metal such as welding, forging and casting. A foundry is a place where people produce metal castings and is similar (yet very different) to a hot shop studio in glass, where they use a furnace to melt metal into a liquid state. The metal is then poured into molds. Once solidified and cooled, the mold is broken apart and you are left with a three-dimensional form.
For some, this may seem like a long process (because it is, what we described is a very shortened version) and a very laborious defeat but for many, it is an exciting challenge. Both these techniques have been practiced since 4,000 BC! It’s wild to think about. People that practice its craft today use very similar techniques that their predecessors (for 1000’s of years) have.
Now that you have a bit of an idea of what Crawford does (super badass, right?), I'm sure you can agree with us that she is one fearless female. Currently, she resides in Kingston, NY, and works at a fine art foundry called Workshop Art Fabrication and a glassblowing studio, the Woodstock Art Exchange which is situated between Kingston and Woodstock, just north of NYC in the Catskill Mountains. Having been in Kingston for almost four years now, she’s established roots and has found a place where she wants to continue to contribute and grow within the community. Kingston is currently boasting an eclectic art scene, especially with the influx of movement to the area since the start of the pandemic. The energy of the cultural values and artistic expression that Kingston cultivates, Crawford thrives on.
Interestingly enough, she hails from Upstate NY, just a different area, on the western side of the state from a town called Irondequoit which is situated right on the bay of Lake Ontario. It’s an urban sprawl, sharing the northern border of Rochester, NY. In high school, she focused mainly on ceramics and practically lived in the art studios. She had a close relationship with her art teacher and was an assistant of sorts, spending a lot of time unearthing materials from closets and rooms that hadn't seen light in years. As an inner city public school, the art program wasn’t well funded and she recalls not having proper glazes to apply on her pottery. This forced her to think outside of the box and play with materials that would create similar outcomes as if she had pre-bought the appropriate ones. Due to the lack of resources and out of necessity, this made her understand materials and how they work from a young age.
While most of her time was spent in the art room, she didn’t have plans to go to school for it. She was facilitated by anthropology and science. In highschool, she and her best friend Liz ran a literary magazine called, The Phoenix. Come senior year, she experienced a series of misfortunes. Her best friend Liz, passed away and an incredibly close cousin did as well. Crawford’s life turned upside down and instead of caring about school or even going to college, she turned to partying and in general was avoiding her emotions, or at least dealing with them in unhealthy ways.
Her father (who is a working artist, himself) expressed that maybe she should consider art school. After all, it’s what she did in her free time. He encouraged her that getting out of town, leaving home and setting forth on her own could be a good thing. He said, “Everything is art and it’s only going to nourish you to move forward.”
Taking his advice and knowing she needed to do something (because the path she was going down wasn't sustainable) she applied and was accepted into Alfred University, which is an art school south of Rochester that is rated the number one school in the United States for ceramics. It had a deep meaning to her. She and her friend Liz who passed away discussed (if Amy didn’t go to school for anthropology) that they were going to go to art school together. Liz had been trying to convince her to apply to Alfred, specifically for art, because that’s what they did together. Amy was going to do ceramics and Liz wanted to be a glassblower.
Once at Alfred, she realized she was exactly where she needed to be and that she could still comment on all the things she felt strongly about in political science, just through art. Her freshman year was transformative and hard for many reasons. Besides the usual freshman jitters, she was coping with the death of her loved ones and also went from city life to the country. Alfred is a school in the middle of nowhere but filled with the arts, it’s just what she needed. At the end of the first year, during her final art exhibition, she had two very eye-opening experiences that gave her motivation and strength. It had been a struggle to complete the year. A professor of her’s at the time, Angie To said, “I can’t believe you're still here, I really didn’t think you were going to make it.”
She had forged her way to this place, put in the work and it was paying off. She was proud of herself, her ambitions and was on the track towards happiness. She recalls some friends from Irondequoit came to support her at the exhibition's opening reception. They had doven deeper into Amy’s past life of partying and had become drug addicts. During Crawford’s show, she witnessed them go to the bathroom to do drugs. It was this moment for her, of accepting who she is now and being so thankful to be mindfully moving forward in the direction she had chosen.
Alfred’s course structure is designed to encourage students to work with a variety of mediums, although her initial plans were to stick with ceramics, she signed up to take studio classes in both glass and metalworking. Once she learned how to work with both materials, she became completely enamored with their beauty and processes.
She recalls an instance in her sophomore introduction to sculpture class where they had yet to work with metal and were given a project to carve into sand tiles. She didn’t really know why they were carving into this particular material but still liked the project. Once completed they took a class trip to the foundry and were told that metal was going to be poured into their tiles. She didn’t really know what metal casting was or what happened at the foundry. She had somewhat of an idea but once they got there and saw what was going on, she was enthralled.
That was it, it sparked her journey to work with metal and then she simultaneously fell in love with glass too. Prior to Alfred, she had been slightly introduced to glass with a one day class at the Corning Art Museum of Glass, she instantly became intrigued by the material then.
Junior year she dialed in her skills with both glass and metal and was awarded a prestigious fellowship, known as Merkell-Brookes. This meant she would be going to the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, which is an arts education center for all mediums nestled in the Colorado mountains. Knowing that she would be on the west coast, she took an even bigger initiative and in the same summer, participated in a class at Pilchuck Glass School which is an international center for art education in Stanwood, Washington. It’s known as one of the best education centers in the world for glass artists. Both are highly accredited in the arts community.
Financially it was a struggle. Yes, the fellowship was paid for but not all expenses paid. What about lodging, airfare and meals? She was granted this opportunity but couldn’t afford it. Crawford took it upon herself and approached the dean of the Art school with a proposal to have them pay for all related expenses, fortunately, she was granted her argument.
Then came her senior year, she gave it her all, and had plans to end up back west after graduating. Throughout the year she visited Seattle often. Many of her friends from Alfred who had graduated prior to her that were glassblowers were living there at the time and she had made so many connections through her summer classes that she wanted to keep that network going, as she had plans to move there once graduated. Then, the day finally arrived, graduation!
For graduation, her parents gave her their old beat up van, to embark on her Seattle-bound journey. The van had seen better days but here she was, giving it a rebirth, a new chapter in life, just as she was doing for her own. Instead of pursuing glass immediately, she made a conscious decision to work with metal and started working at a high-end jeweler. Seattle has a large and prestigious glass scene and with her already having been involved in it, she decided to keep those connections while also dabbling in other materials. During her time working at the jeweler, the price of sterling silver almost doubled, which led to her getting laid off and eventually moving back to working in glass, almost out of necessity.
Crawford says that she has seen the industry in both metal and glass change so much in the last decade and feels like it would probably be different now but coming into it in 2010, it was extremely hard to get your foot in the door as a woman.
Production glass blowing was always an option but she never wanted to do it, as it breaks you. She saw so many of her friends get completely worn out, that she didn’t want that for herself, she didn’t want to compromise herself for the material. Thankfully, Seattle Glassblowing Studio offered her a job as a part-time instructor.
She considers Seattle Glassblowing Studio to have been her main stomping grounds while in Washington. With it being near impossible to gain full-time work in the glass industry (unless you are in production) Crawford had to seek a variety of jobs to get by. Besides being an instructor, she was also a technician performing a variety of duties such as fixing shop equipment. With a background in metal, she was given her own metal fabrication studio where she created structural displays and stands for glass art. On top of this, for seven years she had her own business called, Ship of Fools where she would sell crafts at farmers markets, mainly at the Madrona neighborhood market, on the eastside of Seattle. It was a curated selection of both Crawford’s crafts (along with her friends crafts too) and ranged in items such as blown glass, jewelry, clothes, bags and handmade herbal remedies.
During this time, she also worked at Coyote Central for five years, which is a nonprofit that supports arts through community outreach. They had a variety of classes including summer camps for children, where Crawford would teach a few sessions a summer. Each class would have a dozen or so twelve year olds.
Growing up Crawford always knew she wanted to teach. She loves knowing she is making a difference in a child’s life, especially through craft. She hopes to continue to teach where she is now, in Kingston.
Seattle was a really important time in her life, she was able to hone in on a lot of her skills in both metal and glass while educating others. It helped set the tone for the rest of her career, as the number one rule she has always sworn to herself, when she graduated college was that she would pay for her degree, with her degree. Having this parameter helped fuel her drive to always stay within the field. Every single job in her professional career has been art-based. As long as she was using her skills as an income to pay her loans, she felt like she was on track, and that track led her everywhere.
The art world is very competitive, no matter the material you use, what type of art, location you are in, every factor; it’s hard. People need to like your art, understand it...it has to be sellable (for more than it took to produce it) and on top of all of that, it’s not just your art that sells the art, it’s the artist making it too. Skills, seniority, concept and theory all apply and sometimes it's all about who you know and about being in the right place at the right time. The competitive nature and niche market, especially in the world of glass and metal can make it very hard to be successful and especially more so for women. There were many times in Crawford’s career where she was discriminated against based on her gender.
Through her career she has also learned you are not going to get anything you don’t ask for, especially as a woman. Compensation and negotiating terms have been a learning lesson for Crawford. Once, at Seattle Glassblowing Studio, a man (who was also really talented) started working there, entering in at the same title position as Crawford. She remembers being flabbergasted when she overheard what he was getting paid.
Crawford stresses how important it is to advocate for yourself, because no one else is going to do it for you. All people, especially women need to have the ability to express their worth, which as we all know, doesn’t come easy, it’s a hard subject for anyone to talk about. Not only that, Crawford explains how in addition to speaking your worth, you really need to stick to your guns about it too. If what you propose to them, they won’t give you, then don’t cave in.
She fought hard for herself at Seattle Glassblowing Studio. When she spoke to her boss about wanting an equal representation, explained her worth, skills and dedication, she wasn’t granted the wage she was requested. So, she stopped teaching as many classes (didn’t entirely stop) to fill her space with something where her worth was valued more. She still respected Seattle Glassblowing Studio, she just needed to spend that time and energy elsewhere, a place that fulfilled her needs financially. Crawford experienced something similar when she made the move to the Hudson Valley, in NY. She had applied to a job at at a lighting manufacturer in Beacon, NY and was offered the job but at a much lower salary than she was worth, so she didn’t accept it.
Moving from the west coast back east was a very big decision. She had been in Seattle for nearly a decade but knew it was time for a change. In October 0f 2017 she moved to Kingston, NY (after a bit of an amazing hiatus in Skagway Alaska!) and after applying at a few places, landed a job at Polish Talix, which is a prestigious fine art foundry. Here she worked in the wax room, reworking sculptures and assisting in the patina department. After being there a couple months, the lighting manufacturer hadn’t filled the position she had previously applied for and they reached back out, wanting to sit down with her again, so she did and they STILL did not meet her where she wanted to be and were actually pretty discriminating. The interviewees said something along the lines of, ‘If you were ‘so and so’ (Crawford didn’t want to say the name), maybe we would consider it.’ Little did they know, she had worked with this man at Pilchuck Glass School for years and they are the same caliber glassblower. They had named dropped him, not knowing she had worked side by side with him. She realized at that moment, they weren’t talking about her skills as a glassblower but if she was a man, maybe they would consider her wage needs.
Currently, Crawford is working at a fine art foundry in Kingston, NY called Workshop Art Fabrication where she has now been since March of 2018. Here, she mainly works again in the wax room and also in patination, where she apprentices under Andrew Farmer, who is the co-owner of the company.
Sometimes they will work alone and sometimes with the artists if they are requesting a specific patina. Getting to work with artists is a great perk to the job. Crawford has worked side by side with many accredited artists such as Ursula von Rydingsvard.
After a long time focusing primarily on glass, she has been happy to be working in metal again. She looks at her time in Seattle as her personal ‘grad school’ for glass and this time now is her ‘grad school’ for metal foundry. Recently, the foundry has partnered with the Boys and Girls center, creating programs working with students. Lately, some new art facilities have been popping up in the midtown art district in Kingston. She hopes to see some of those places open up classes for glassblowing.
In 2019 she started to teach glass classes and blows glass at Woodstock Art Exchange. The Covid-19 Pandemic put a halt to the classes, but they have started to pick up again, which she is incredibly excited for. Eventually, she would love to facilitate glass camps for kids at either the art exchange or some of the other new art centers around Kingston.
She recalls how her six-week adult student classes in Seattle were mainly composed of software engineers from big tech tycoons like Amazon and Google. Crawford feels like part of her work in art is to expose art to others. Through doing so, she wants to assist people in remembering how to be here, in the physical space, in the now. It’s getting increasingly challenging for people, especially those who exist more often in the digital realm than in real time. Crawford stresses the importance of this for kids and wants to be an influential teacher, ensuring that it’s not lost. These practices still need to remain, otherwise, what will kids have to actually grasp onto? Our world is becoming less and less based on tangibility in nature, and being present and is more focused on networking and communication through digital platforms.
Crawford is happy for both where she is at and also the direction that she is taking herself. Her relentless approach towards always working in her field and doing what makes her happy has driven her to a gratifying and honest place in her life. We are excited to see what this fearless female continues to do and how she touches people through art. As a woman working in both the glassblowing and the metalworking art industries, she is helping to bridge the gender gap and paving the way for the future of women in the art industry.
Q + A
Q: Any words of advice in taking a leap of faith?
Q: What are your feelings on having gone to college?