Glass Act

 

A chance trip to Bethesda’s Glen Echo Park with her favorite teenager took photographer Rhoda Baer in a new direction. In 2005, she and 13-year-old Erin Auel, the daughter of her former assistant, were strolling past the Glen Echo Art Glass Consortium when they decided to sign up for a workshop.

“Erin said the magic words: ‘Let’s do it together,’” recalls Baer. “I knew from my first cut into the glass that I liked the whole idea of it. It’s like photography in combining the visual and the technical into art.”

The classes led her to experiment with layers of colored glass fired into vibrantly patterned designs. Just a year after making her first small plate, Baer won the “E-merge” competition sponsored by the Bullseye Glass Company in Portland, Oregon, where her work was exhibited alongside that of other rising talents. Today, her glass is sold for hundreds of dollars at galleries and museums, including local venues (see Resources).

“I love the unpredictability, the surprise of each piece,” explains Baer of the medium’s appeal. “I am challenged by the way color and luminosity transform this everyday material.” While she has no plans to give up her successful career in photography, the Bethesda artist intends on mastering the art of fused glass—pieced-together glass segments that are heated in a kiln until they bond into a single unit.

Fused glass dates back to ancient times but was supplanted by more efficient glass-blowing techniques until its revival in mid-20th-century modern designs. “It has become very popular as an accessible art form, especially in the Washington area,” says artist Kari Minnick, who runs a glass studio in Silver Spring. “You have to find a way to differentiate yourself from the pack and Rhoda’s work definitely does that.”

Between photo assignments, Baer took lessons with Minnick and other local glass artists to refine her technique. “I read everything I could about what glass does at different temperatures,” says the photographer, who keeps copious notes on each fired piece. “It can be like honey, spreading out but not necessarily in an even way.”

In 2006, Baer bought her own kiln and installed it in her photography studio. From simple, monochromatic pieces, she began increasing the visual richness of her designs by adding layers of glass in different but related colors. Some of her hand-cut stacks of glass are placed in molds so that when heated in the kiln, they slump to the shape of a platter or a plate. Her tabletop art pieces are fired a second and a third time and sandblasted to a matte finish.

Excited by her new endeavor, Baer began inviting friends over to her studio to make their own glass creations. One of them was Cynthia Feiden-Warsh, a business developer for health-care companies who has since partnered with Baer to market her work. “As soon as I saw her plates and platters, I knew we could sell them,” says Feiden-Warsh. “They are different from most of the glass you see out there. Rhoda doesn’t pile on color after color. Her work is simple, elegant and organic.”

Stripes, squares and dots animate the pieces that are now a mainstay of Rhoda Baer Glass. Their geometries reflect the same pared-down qualities of her photographic portraits made for corporate and institutional clients, including the striking “red dress” campaign to raise women’s awareness of heart disease.

Baer has used her photography skills to create her own “Platter People” promotion featuring friends and acquaintances holding her designs. The ads are now part of Bullseye’s “Glass, for life” campaign.

“Working in glass has made me more aware of how I use color in my photography,” says Baer. “Now I work harder to have the color do more.”

Washington, DC-based Deborah K. Dietsch
is author of Live/Work: Working at Home, Living at Work.

Rhoda Baer’s glass is sold locally at Katzen Arts Center at American University, Après Peau and Cross MacKenzie Ceramic Arts in the District; and in Maryland at VisArts in Rockville and Weisser Glass Studio in Kensington. For more information, visitwww.rhodabaerglass.com.