We had the good fortune of connecting with Laurie Nessel and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Laurie, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I pursued a career in art because that is all I ever wanted to do. I was nurtured by two superb high school art teachers and after-school classes at the municipal arts center. When I was 15 my parents shipped me off to Hinckley School of Crafts in Maine for a photography workshop where I spent most of my time watching the activities in the hotshop. The next year, I went to Haystack, Maine for glassblowing, then to University of Wisconsin-River Falls where I received a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in glass and fibers. After two decades of making decorative window art for the burgeoning Phoenix housing market of the 1980s and 1990s, I transitioned to an equally longterm career as lead instructor of the glass studio at Mesa Arts Center. But my artistic career really started to flourish after I left teaching in mid-2019.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I make large, flameworked glass beads with bas-relief sculptures of representational animals and people. My work is didactic and often includes narratives that are crucial to the piece. The animals represent my Extinction: Casualties of the Anthropocene series. The humans are brave souls who gave their lives defending wild lands against development; or civil rights activists. It appears I am the only person making recognizable people in soda-lime flameworked glass, although there are a few borosilicate artists doing this type of work. It is extremely challenging and many pieces don’t make the cut. So when it works out I’m elated. I’ve been doing flameworking since 1998. Most of my time and energy was devoted to teaching and administration work. It wasn’t until I left teaching that I’ve been able to dedicate myself to my art and that is when I reached another level of work. So I would say it wasn’t easy because so much of my time was diverted away from my art. I want people to see my work, to ponder the impact of their lives on the world around us, and make changes, even small ones, to mitigate the tremendous impact civilization is having on the environment.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’m a country person trapped in a city. I always tempt visitors (and locals) out to the desert. The desert is what lured me from the midwest. I would take them out to my “patch” and find them a desert tortoise and blooming odora. I would have them crush lavendar leaves to catch their divine scent, and tail a tarantula hawk as she drags her victim to a burrow to lay her eggs on. Maybe we’ll see a raven lumbering over a hill to reach a thermal that takes it soaring over a drainage, or a nestling Turkey Vulture hissing like a rattlesnake from a boulder pile. I would then take them to southeast Arizona to the Sky Islands to look for neotropic migrants and borderland species that barely cross into the US. Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Aside from my parents, there is no one person or group that deserves a shoutout for my success. There are many…..all the teachers, the flameworkers who have generously shared their knowledge and techniques that gradually added to my skills that are essential to being able to express my ideas in glass.
Website: under construction but my old website is www.LaurieNessel.com
Facebook: Laurie Nessel
All photos by Laurie Nessel