portraits-ohreallyCynthia Morgan never got the whole leftbrain/rightbrain thing, probably because no one ever told her you can’t do both. By day an information architect, she spends her nights, weekends and pretty much any time she can spare doing art.

She’s always loved sculpture–Rodin, Bernini and Botero make her cry–and always wished she could sculpt. She’d last attempted it in college, where she sculpted a face peeping out of a (very strange) forest.

She thought it looked pretty good until her professor said, “Honey, marry an orthodontist, live in the burbs and make babies. No chance in hell you’ll ever be an artist.” And he tossed her sculpture in the trash. (Her college was suffering from a severe case of abstractionism, and faces were a definite no-no.)

So she stopped. She collected art and stuck with crafts that never, ever, EVER expressed more than pretty colors.

Then about ten years ago she bought a bag of clay on a whim, and started playing around. She made a face, that–whoa!–actually looked like a face.

A LOT like a face. So she made another. And another.

75 pounds of faces-that-looked-like-faces later, she decided she that maybe she was a sculptor after all. She took a few classes from excellent teachers, had a couple of shows, and confirmed it: She’s a sculptor. (Take that, Dr. Lund!)

Now she’s making up for lost time; her work reflects a lifetime’s worth of imaginings and wry observations. And she’s become an expert at testing the limits of a casting technique known today as pate de verre.

A bowl by the great pate de verre artist, Almaric Walter.

A bowl by the great pate de verre artist, Almaric Walter.

Born in France during the Art Nouveau period, pate de verre was an attempt to rediscover a far older glassmaking technique, “Egyptian faience.” It’s almost certainly the oldest glassmaking technique known, and it produces wonderfully glowing pieces that look more like jade than glass.

The technique is similar to the lost-wax method of bronze casting: She sculpts a clay model and uses it to create a silicone mold. She pours wax into the mold to create an exact copy, carves it to suit her whims, then “invests” the wax in a special refractory plaster able to withstand prolonged times in a 1500F kiln.

She melts the wax out of the cured plaster mold, leaving a negative of her original sculpture. Then she mixes colored, powdered glass and lead crystal–much as a watercolorist mixes paint–and painstakingly paints layer after layer into the mold. When the mold is finished, she fires it…sometimes for weeks.

She then removes the plaster from the cooled glass, sculpts it with stonecarving tools, re-fires sometimes several times, and finally polishes the finished piece. A single work can take up to three months to complete. (And while it’s in the kiln she experiments with other, faster glassmaking methods, some of which you’ll find on this site.)

Cynthia’s expertise helps her create large, precisely shaded figurative sculpture with the classic pate de verre translucency. Her work has been exhibited in museums, magazines and books; it is held in private and public collections around the world.