Glass: A Versatile Material

Autumn isn’t the only thing that is beautiful this time of year. There is a place where beauty overflows and creativity is a requirement, a festival that celebrates not only art, but also the deeper meaning of that art. For the past two years, I have had the opportunity to expand my knowledge on the subject of art at this festival.

The Kentuck Festival of the Arts has been held in mid-October in Northport, Alabama, for the past 45 years. Thousands of people from all over the nation attend this festival where more than 200 artists exhibit and sell their art. The festival is held on the same motto that our mail carriers use: rain, sleet, snow, or hail, the festival goes on. This year, I caught up with one of the greats (in my biased opinion) at the  to learn a little bit more about the medium.

sayd-ahmed-kentuckI had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Syed F. Ahmad, a professional glass maker, who explained to me that glass can be divided into subcategories, which can be divided further into more descriptive subcategories . . . and this goes on and on.

“I do what is called warm glass. You got cold glass like stained glass work; you got hot glass, which is glass-blowing. I do warm glass where I am firing in the kiln, melting pieces of glass together. So the process is called either kiln work glass or kiln fired. Or another process or word people call it is fused glass,” he explained when I asked about his process.

When does one even get a revelation to go into glass making? And the more important question is, why?

Ahmad’s response about why he chose the style was: “I think the medium chose me,” then he went on to tell the story of the museum where he first learned about glass as an art. “It started with a visit to the Corning Museum of Glass and I didn’t know anything about the medium . . . so the museum has a section where they teach people about the material. I had no idea that glass is such a versatile material, so the science part of me was excited to learn about something really scientific about physical glass. But then they have this section of museum with contemporary artwork as well as ancient glass, people have been working with glass for thousands of years, so they have all of these examples. You can’t help but be fascinated by it.”

But artists take on their own style of anything they do. Ahmad makes glass in what is called the improvisational style. But why did he choose this style?

“I’m not trying to force myself, it’s just my personality.” He explained in further detail that he isn’t trying to mold something, he is trying to be sensitive to the medium. “OK, tell me what to do. I’m just kind of feeling it, you know. Just a ‘Let’s see what happens’ kind of thing, and sometimes I don’t know what’s going to happen in the end, and to me that’s exciting . . . I just kind of let it come to me.”

Working with glass seems very dangerous to me. So instead of assuming, I asked Ahmad what he thought about the matter and what he has experienced while working with such a dangerous material.

“It can be cause glass as a material is sharp so I get cut. I get cut and draw blood once in awhile. You gotta be very careful when you’re working with glass. I’ve heard horror stories of people who get really badly cut. When people come to my studio I get a little nervous sometimes and I have to tell them be careful here and there. Sometimes I get people who are interested in working with glass, and I give them strict rules on how to handle glass because it can be dangerous.”

But does this artist just stick to his medium? What other talent is Mr. Ahmad hiding in his shell? Does he make other kinds of art?

“I do not as far as visual art, but I like movement art and music. It’s kind of a different art altogether. I did not grow up in a community that promoted dance so I could have been a dancer. But I went into martial arts, that’s the type of movement art I’m into, and also I play a little bit of music.”

An artist who covers all of the bases. He is also a graduate from the University of El Paso where he earned his Bachelor of Science in 1986.

But where does all of his creativity that he puts into each of his pieces come from?

“Well, most of my pieces are nature. I use a particular kind of glass, it’s called dichroic, so the glass wants to be cut a certain way. So when you’re hand cutting it, your cutting it a certain way and so when I cut glass it looks like something and then I just kind of build on that. I cut another piece of glass, put it on top, layer it and then as I’m doing this, I see patterns and most of that patterns is patterns of nature and like water, like trees, or leaves and so I’m letting the glass tell me what to see and then I just kind of build on that. In other words, I’m trying to be sensitive to the medium.”

In order to be a glass artist, does one have to have a prior knowledge of the artists that have come before them? Well, Ahmad says that he isn’t familiar with the artists who have preceded him.

“I don’t really follow glass artists. I follow painters. What I like to do with my work is really mimic painters, so I try not to look at other glass artists cause when I first started I wanted to have a unique voice working with glass. I try not to be influenced by other glass artists, and I guess, at some point, I’ll start looking them up.” He ended this statement with a genuine smile and chuckle.

So how does he determine the price, especially for pieces that are custom-made?

“When we do commission custom work, I try to make it the same as my other work, so it’s not like it’s more or less. I base it on similar work that I do. So if someone wants something like this,” he says pointing to one of his series pieces, “and they want a slightly different color, I can make it but it will be the same price as what this is. So as far as commission and other work there is no difference,” he said.

And finally, I asked about his Muse, his inspiration to do art, and his response was very relatable.

“I don’t know when people say muse, I don’t think I understand what it is. I don’t really know. One of these days I’ll figure it out when my muse is gone, then I’ll understand the absence.”

Besides meeting a wonderful artist and man, I also had the chance to view other art and participate in various activities. From the common to the unconventional, each booth exhibited a new experience for every spectator. I visited the children’s booth where many free activities were being held. I had the chance to make a beautiful quilt piece that incorporated crayons, and I made a quilt piece for children in need. I made a beautiful multicolored bandanna that I plan to wear everywhere, I learned to strum a chord on the guitar, and last but not least, I made a made a beautiful jewelry dish out of clay.

Who could have planned for a better breezy day filled with beautiful art?

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