Shawn Athari

Contemporary Glass Artist

For over three decades I have been creating glass sculptures inspired by my passion for history and the artifacts that tell a story through images reflective of a culture long gone.
Few of the artifacts I have studied ever make it to the finished form. I must be able to visualize what I am making before it is actually committed to glass. Once I have done this, I make a pattern for the sculpture. At this point I feel familiar with the object I am about to create. This is a very important step for me because while I am drawing I am totally absorbed by the project and before the glassmaking starts I have a very clear picture of the finished piece. Whenever someone asks me how long it takes to make a piece I find it hard to answer because I sometimes think the process of glassmaking is only the final step, since the previous steps seem so much more a part of “the making”.

Once the pattern is made, I cut colored sheet glass and lay out the pieces according to the pattern. Now is the next most creative part. This is when I layer the various handmade glass pieces over the base colors. One of the more unique steps I take is to do glass pouring. I combine various shades of colored glass, some with specific menu ingredients, and combine them in a ceramic crucible and melt to 2300 degrees. At this point I pour the glass in specific and random shapes, as illustrated above. When cooled, these pieces are used as design elements and/or as “icing on the cake.” I also use propane and a torch to melt glass into desired shapes. These are used as design elements also. Additionally, I make canework similar to making blown glass. I melt strips of glass and then twist them on each other, pulling them to create a cane of two or more colors of glass. These are also used as a top layer of coloring on the glass sculpture.
When all the layers of colored glass are in place, I melt them together in a kiln at temperatures up to 1600 degrees. Afterward I do the detail work with enamel, gold or sandblasting. The last and most challenging step is to slump or shape the piece. To do this, the glass is draped over a mold made by me and returned to the kiln and heated up to 1300 degrees so the glass softens and takes on the shape of the mold. This is a very stressful time since when the glass bends an internal stress is created and sometimes the glass decides to break rather than bend!! When that happens, the glass is beyond repair. Any repair done after this happens results in a sculpture that is less than my best and is destroyed.
There are a few other detail techniques I use in some of my pieces. I mix glass in a powdered form with a painting medium and use an outline brush carefully applying the enamel with a brush to create outlining and detailing on my pieces. This is especially important on my Totem Poles or those sculptures needing accents, but where pieces of glass would be inappropriately heavy. This is similar to how a painter would use shading in their work. I also do some sandblasting on my pieces where I might want a rough texture complementing an adjacent segment that has a high luster.
I have followed my heart, passion and intellectual interests into a direction I could never have dreamed of. I have created a body of work that covers many centuries, cultures and an evolution of glass processes that tell my story as a glass artist. I am proud of the work I have created and the bridge it builds to the past.