Artist: Mary Laskey
Web sites: marstinia.etsy.com and www.fabrications.net
Location: Chicago, Illinois
What do you create?
I work primarily with copper and silver to create art jewelry and small dishes with kiln-fired glass enamel designs.
What is involved in enameling?
Enameling is the process of firing finely ground pigmented glass onto metal in a kiln. It is an ancient process that can be traced to ancient Byzantine times. It was quite popular in the the US as a hobby craft in the 1950s and 1960s, but has since become something of a lost art that not many people are familiar with.
My glass enamel designs are created on copper or fine silver with multiple layers of different colors of glass enamel powder and require a series of firings (three to six on average, sometimes more). My kiln is quite small so each piece is fired individually, not in batches like ceramics.
The glass enamels I work with are ground to the consistency of powdered sugar. I apply the glass powders to the metal surface by using small sifters and sifting on an even layer of enamel, then I fire it in an electric kiln at 1500 degrees Farenheit. A firing usually takes about 2 to 6 minutes depending on the size of the metal piece. The powdered glass granules melt and fuse together to create a glossy solid layer of glass which is fused permanently to the metal base.
Where and when do you do your creative work?
I share a studio space on the north side of Chicago with my husband, Grant, who is an artist and photographer. When possible, I generally spend my evenings and weekends in the studio. I also have a work room at home where I can assemble and finish pieces. There are so many hats to wear when you have a business that it seems like I'm almost always thinking about some aspect of my work.
Do you have another "day job"?
Presently I work during the day as a digital production artist for a large Euro Design home furnishings company.
Where and what did you study?
I have a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Art) in Photography from University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. I also spent a year studying abroad, doing Visual Studies at Oxford Polytechnic in Oxford, England.
What inspires you and what motivates you?
I'm super attracted to mid-century modern designs 1950s-70s, so I'm really in my element with all kinds of mod stuff being back in style! I especially love the space-age and futuristic designs of those eras. I also love looking at nature and often find organic themes to incorporate into my work, especially textures and patterns one finds in plants, flowers, pods and the like. In the realm of art, I'm most inspired by the work of Alexander Calder, Wassily Kandinsky, Joan Miro, Barbara Hepworth and June Schwarcz.
When did you start doing this?
I started making jewelry in 1990. I became a full-time metalsmith and enamelist in 1998.
Do you remember getting into art as a kid?
I have always loved art projects, drawing and making things at a very young age. I still have a little quilt that my mother helped me sew when I was five years old. It's made from fabrics that my grandmother used to make clothes for my sister, brother and me.
When and why did you decide to start your own business?
I've always loved jewelry and have a large collection of costume jewelry. When I meet people, I have a bad habit of noticing what jewelry they are wearing before I register anything else about them. I started making my own jewelry for fun just after I graduated from college. I didn't have any training at all, so I recycled vintage jewelry and reused the beads to make my own pieces. I would wear my creations to work and some of my co-workers liked them so much that I began to sell my jewelry to them from time to time.
I quit my full-time job in 1996 to become a freelancer and have more time for my own creative projects. I took a one-day enameling workshop at a local art center and totally fell in love with the process. I also started taking metalsmithing classes. I met several people there who were artists successfully selling their jewelry at art fairs. I was inspired by them to try it myself. In 1998, I launched a website and my business, Fabrications. I've been extremely fortunate to have tremendous support from my family and friends and as well as some very loyal customers.
How did you choose the name for your business?
One of the definitions of the word fabrication is to construct or manufacture something made of metal. I also frequently imprint fabric textures onto my metal pieces to add texture, so there a sort of play on words involved.
What do you love most about creating your work?
Some of my best designs have just popped into my head, out of the blue. I love it when that
kind of spontaneity happens. Also, enameling is often quite unpredictable – I never know exactly what's going to come out of the kiln. I guess you could say that I love surprises! I've always enjoyed working with my hands, and there is just so much basic satisfaction in creating things.
What's the most fascinating place you've been?
I know I should say someplace exotic... and I've been to some fantastic places: Peru, Great Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Mexico. I love to travel, but there are so many distractions that I feel like I can't really get to know a place unless I spend a lot of time there. So truthfully, some of my favorite places to go are rather mundane. My favorite haunt at the moment is a prairie meadow near where I work. There are walking trails through it and I go there almost every day because it's different every day – new plants growing or blooming, different birds, animals and insects. There are constant changes and shifts in light, cloud patterns, sounds and smells. I
love it there because I feel like I can recapture the curiosity that you have as a child, when everything around you is fascinating and you can spend hours playing in a puddle.
A book you love: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
What is the most interesting thing about you?
I don't think of myself as a mystic, but I once had an out of the body experience. I was about five years old and I was running down the stairs at a neighbor's house and I tripped over a vacuum cleaner that had been left on the stairs and tumbled headlong down to the bottom. As I was falling, for a split second I was also standing at the bottom of the stairs watching myself
fall, as though the momentum of the fall actually carried me out of my body briefly. Luckily, I wasn't hurt, but that is probably the most bizarre thing that has ever happened to me. I think that experience has made a lasting impression on me.
What achievement are you most proud of?
I'm very proud of running my own business and doing what I love for nine years.
What advice would you give women starting their own business?
Always be confident and optimistic – especially when you're unsure of yourself. Positive qualities attract positive reactions from other people and will reinforce your goals.
What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?
Keeping up with the flow of ideas. I can't always drop what I'm doing to work on a new idea at the moment it occurs to me, so I always make sketches and notes about new designs or ideas, so I can revisit them when time allows. My sketchbooks are a great source of inspiration when I feel like I'm in a rut.
What do you love to do in your free time?
Take nature walks or hikes, ride my bike, play tennis, ski (if there's snow), read, take pictures, watch old movies with ridiculously naïve plots, spend time with Grant and our spoiled cockatiel, Sprout, and our families and friends.
What are you working on right now?
I'm working on a completely new line of jewelry pieces that combine my two of my favorite things: color and texture. The new pieces will have brightly colored geometric enamel shapes and mixed metal pieces that have a lot of hammered texture. I'm really enjoying the interplay of the geometric and organic qualities.
What do you hope to achieve next?
Besides having a clean house and a great summer, I'd really like to start a website or a blog about enameling. It's a wonderful process that deserves more recognition and I think it's overdue for a revival. There are many marvelous artists out there working with glass enamel and creating the next wave.