Friday, November 15, 2013

Glass orchids: a passion for artist Debora Moore

Two views of a piece in Debora Moore's "Host" series

Joyce Kilmer wrote that "only God can make a tree," but Seattle artist Debora Moore creates some impressive representations, then decorates them with exquisite orchids--all in glass. CQA members and guests were in awe at the detail and delicacy of Moore's works as viewed at the group's November 12 meeting.

Moore began her artistic journey as a ceramicist but quickly found that clay didn't give her the transparency and fluidity she wanted. Influenced by the works of glass artists in Europe and especially by a collection of lampworked glass flowers at Harvard University, she selected glass as her medium. She began studies at Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle, where "I started at the bottom and worked my way up," she said. "I fired the furnaces...I cleaned the studio...I did anything and everything that needed doing!"

Seattle glass artist Debora Moore at CQA meeting

Following her sessions at Pratt she studied and then instructed at the Pilchuck Glass School, and later worked with Pilchuck co-founder Dale Chihuly in setting up the Hilltop Artist in Residence Program in Tacoma. Although situated in one of the city's poorer areas, the program was originally aimed at more affluent children. With Moore's insight and persuasion, the program soon morphed into serving the disadvantaged children in the surrounding area. At first the attendees were typically rowdy, reports Moore, but after experiencing the dangers of working with glowing furnaces and super-hot glass they began to change: they recognized the need for teamwork and responsibility for each other. With pride, Moore recounted that some of these students went on to graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design.

"Lady Slipper" orchid...made of blown glass

One of Moore's pieces in her bamboo series

Moore's own works represent nature, and originally she produced a variety of different flowers in her pieces, including a number of works sold through the venerated Gump's store in San Francisco. But once she began with orchids, then it was orchids full time: "Once you're bitten by the orchid bug, there's no going back!" she said, though she admitted she doesn't try to grow them herself: "I have a terrible habit of examining them to death!"

From Moore's "Nymph" series, inspired by statues at Ephesus
Always interested in travel, she began to travel specifically to regions where orchids occur naturally. First it was Jamaica...but she ended up finding the best display of orchids in a conservatory, not in the wild. Then it was Thailand...and once again she ended up viewing the orchids in a garden setting! But a different theme came from the trip to Thailand: inspired by the bamboo present most everywhere, she returned home to begin her bamboo series. Here, orchids are placed on bamboo trunk sections or sinuous representations of their leaves. A visit to the Roman ruins of Ephesus in Turkey, where the ancient library includes statues of women representing Virtue, Wisdom, Knowledge, etc. inspired her "Nymph" series.

Lichen in Antarctica, an inspiration for the "Host" series

Mosses in  Antarctica inspire Moore's "Host" series

Another of Moore's series--"Host"--came about because of a trip to Antarctica. A photographer friend was leaving on a work assignment on the frozen continent, and Moore quickly put together a proposal to research moss and lichens/algae that gained her a spot on the research vessel. The pieces resulting from this venture look totally real; the color, texture and appearance of the mosses are astonishing. On some pieces she uses acid to reduce the natural shine of the glass to a velvet quality.

Realistic mossy "trunks" provide hosts for glass orchids

One of Moore's more sinuous "Host" pieces

The moss looks so soft to the touch...but it's all glass!

And it's in this "Host" series that a number of pieces grew from short sections of "tree trunks" on pedestals to components that can be connected or even spread out to suggest "trees" that span large areas, up to entire walls. One such piece was commissioned by a woman who had a full-wall cabinet built just to display one of Moore's glass trees dotted with orchids. Another piece was intricately planned to fit around a corbel arch.

Moore beginning "tree" installation in custom-built cabinet
Finished tree installation in cabinet
Detailed drawing of piece planned for a corbel arch

All of Moore's work is blown glass, with final pieces created by an assembly process. At first the small components were joined "hot," but now many of the small clusters are so delicate that they need to be attached with silicon glue. "All my techniques I developed by trial and error," said Moore, "and everything is planned out in detail. Nothing can be 'on the fly.'"

Notice striations in the orchid from use of "reactionary" colors of glass

Excellent example of striations from using two "reactionary" colors

Who wouldn't want to own this colorful orchid!
In her design process, Moore creates extremely detailed watercolor drawings with specific numbers for each variation of each color ("nothing is just 'Red'"). Color is added to the molten glass (2150 degrees) with frit or powder; bits of molten glass can be gathered on a pipe and added as the pieces are being assembled. Her assistants bring the component pieces to her for final assembly; it can take four man-hours to produce two flowers. A number of her current pieces display the striations that result from using "reactionary" colors--two colors that react with each other in interesting ways, sometimes drawing away from each other, at other times creating the intricate striping so characteristic of some orchids.

Moore's work has appeared in many museums and exhibitions, and has won recognition and numerous awards for her both in the US and internationally, including working residencies in Tacoma and Murano, Italy. She will be featured in a solo exhibit at Seattle's NW African-American Museum in October, 2014.