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.”
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.
“Straight out of college the one thing that I told myself that I have followed, that has been my guiding North Star, my goal post-graduation was to pay back my degree with my degree. That was the one confine I gave myself and if I could stick with that then I'm doing good.”
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.
“The way that you think about things is not going to be the way that other people think about things and sometimes you just need to lead by example. Women are so efficient. WE are the OG multitaskers, that’s how our minds are built, we can think in this broad spectrum of ways. When you’re working in a male dominated industry and you’re trying to show your merit in that way, you're going to be met with so much resistance because typically the other gender thinks about things so differently. LEAD BY EXAMPLE. It’s so hard to not be enraged by those situations you may find yourself in, in those male dominated industries.”
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.
“‘I’ve been here for five years, this dude just rolled in out of nowhere.’ Then thinking (to herself), ‘Well, you’ve never asked for more.’ I had the realization, this is a capitalist society, why would someone ever give you something you’re not advocating for?”
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.
“You know your worth and you know your merits and you have your principles, If when you are advocating for yourself, if that’s not being heard, do not give in, also.”
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.
“I’ve been blowing glass since 2006, and I rocked that working interview, blew it out of the water and they did not want to give me what I was asking for and I turned down that job because of that.”
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.
“So I got a smirk on my face and said, ‘Thank you for your time, I really hope you find somebody, and I excused myself and left.’ I was like, you basically told me, if I was a guy you would meet me where I want to be met.”
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.
“I work in the wax room doing waxwork. Mostly I do gating (although I do reworking) which is creating the plumbing system in which the metal will flow from its place of origin (the crucible) from which the metal is being poured and will flow through the plumbing system that I create and attach to the piece of fine art. So my job is to create a system that will ensure proper casting. I’m also in the patina department, this is the end of the production line. Patination is the chemical application of acids, different combinations of earth elements, and pigments to put on the bronze. I work with an oxy gas torch (over 2000 degrees) in conjunction with chemicals to achieve certain colors with bronze.”
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.
“We cater to collected artists and smaller artists alike and we render their cast bronze or cast aluminum or cast metal. We do everything in house, we have a mold making department, waxing department, ceramic shell and foundry facility, casting, finishing, patination...then we send things out the door with art handling companies.”
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.
“I think it’s just so important for kids to experience the physicality of risk management. There’s so much in the world (and our world now) that isn’t in a physical material space, we are starting to go more and more into existing in these digital spaces.”
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.
“You need to understand how to exist in the physical realm with your body and take risks. Working with kids in glass is such a great platform for teaching kids those lessons.”
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?
“You don’t have to have a plan, you just have to know what feels right, I remember Fred Tshida (professor) saying to me one time, your entire life is just a series of yes’s and no’s, it’s just 0’s and 1’s, its like code…everything that approaches you (or you approach) you respond from an internal resonance of yes or no. If you feel yourself saying yes to something you don’t have to have a plan, you just have to jump…and trust yourself, trust the universe.”
Q: What are your feelings on having gone to college?
“I think about that all the time. I hate the fact that I have to pay back school, that’s been a struggle, even in its goal orientation but every time I think about it, I’m like its STILL WORTH IT because money is really not real but the life path that I have chosen is a real path and I’m always happy I chose that instead of the other.”
Q: What advice do you give to women in male dominated fields?
“You need to advocate for yourself, no one else is going to do that and it’s actually your responsibility to express your worth and it’s not easy.”
“You are the universe so trust yourself. It’s probably one of the most important things you can do.”
Q: What does Moxxi mean to you?
“Moxxi (to me) means opportunity, Moxxi has given me an opportunity to share my story as a Fearless Female in the art world, with the world. Thank you Moxxi for facilitating this opportunity to share my craft and talk a bit about myself and my journey here on planet earth.”
Q: Who is your biggest supporter?
Crawford says her best friend Liz who passed away in high school was, and still is in ways. She wasn’t being the best version of herself and Liz always encouraged Amy to better herself. Not only did she push her then, but honoring Liz in recent years has helped Crawford too. Her family has always been a rock for her as well.