Updated: Jun 5, 2021
A sculptor forging a path of prosperity
By: Krysta Kearney
“If you just stay open, you have all the possibilities of things coming towards you and once you feel what it is, where you're supposed to go, and what you’re supposed to do, you ask for it and it will present itself in some manifestation.”
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.
“We didn’t have glaze but we had all this glass, this fritz, and he (art teacher) kind of explained where, if I took a clear medium, I could paint that on! It was kind of the same time that crystalline glazes were coming into the ceramic scene and what I was doing kind of had that same effect on the ceramics. That made me more interested in glass. Glaze and glass are the same thing, it’s all these earth elements and they are all ubiquitous between the mediums.”
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.
“That was part of the subliminal psyche of honoring her spirit while I was there, since that was something that she really wanted to do.”
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.”
“I was like. ‘I know, I really didn’t think I’d be here either.’ That was this candid moment of me feeling this affinity or pride for the fact that I pushed through it and I think that really made me want to be there after that.”
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.
“I remember me choosing at that moment, I'm not going to be that person. Seeing a fork in the road and choosing to go down a different direction.”
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.
“Alfred was such a conceptual school, but that’s not what ceramics evokes for me. I don’t like to make sculpture out of ceramics, I like to make functional stuff. I was finding that glass and metal could really support the conceptual ideas (not that ceramics isn’t process-oriented) but I feel there’s so much more process involved with foundry work and with glass. I found more of that conceptual fulfillment within the process of those materials.”
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.
“We took them down to the foundry, I just see this badass woman, in all her leathers about to pour metal outside and then things started to click and I was like Ohh, OK!!! That’s what’s happening here. And my mind was blown and was like this is where I want to be.”
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.
“Glass was something that I was always really drawn to, I remember going to craft festivals around the area, any vendors that had blown glass or painting on glass, I would talk to the vendors and ask them how they did these things.”
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.
“That was a huge year, networking and making connections while diving into the west coast glass scene. So that was amazing.”
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.
“The wealth disparity in the art world. You have these two opposite sides of the spectrum. You have all these people that are super talented with no resources then you have these people that have all the resources and want to just do this for fun. Those people that can facilitate their own way in that regard tend to be the ones that get picked up in galleries, get representation and get to make more money off of the things they didn’t have to work for in the first place. That can be really disheartening.”
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.
“I tried getting jobs at Foundry’s in Seattle proper, and them just looking at me, as not really that formidable as a female physically and it just not going anywhere. It’s such a male-dominated field and it was hard for me to get in my foot anywhere in the door with that.”
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.
“I was an instructor the whole time I lived there, teaching glass lessons, private, beginner, intermediate and advanced six-week courses.”
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.
“It’s a really special community in that way because Seattle is such a mecca for glass art. There is an opportunity there for people to be introduced to that at a young age.”
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.
“It’s definitely my happy place, working with kids and glass, I would love to be able to facilitate that here, now. I think it’s definitely the most gratifying work that I can do here, in this lifetime. I do feel like that is my place.”
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.
“I feel like my truest self when I’m around people who are like twelve. There’s still that innocence and magic, there’s so much potential energy inside of people at that time. So being able to facilitate that growth is really satisfying to me and I feel like I give the best version of myself to kids. I feel like I hold myself to a higher standard when I'm around them. Being somebody that doesn’t want to procreate my own kin, that’s where I find that nurturing motherly happiness, there’s so many people in the world already that need that nurturing so that’s my part to give.”