HandMade in America talks with CSA artist Ben Elliott

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When did you decide to become and artist and why?
I was interested in art/craft as long as I can remember. My great uncle was a painter and I remember seeing his paintings in many of my relatives’ houses. At some point, I started drawing a lot and pretending to be an artist.  I also remember driving through WNC at a young age and being in awe as we passed houses with beautiful quilts, pottery, and woodcarvings set out by the road for sale. I credit those memories for planting a seed that inspired me to become a maker.

What would you say informs you work?
Currently, I am working on a series of sculptures informed by old sayings associated with time.  My interpretations of these phrases translate into a series of sculptural objects. Through my choices of imagery, each piece becomes a passage from a personal narrative. This work tends to referenc my cultural surroundings here in rural WNC. My functional line of work is influenced by the history of glass, other glass artists, and the natural world.

What’s your design process like?
Designing a piece used to involve lots of trial an error. Now that I don’t have as much free time I have to plan things out a little more. I usually start with some thoughts on the idea and sketches. Sometimes I will make a more detailed drawing before I start constructing a piece.  I always leave room for the idea to evolve during the process.  For the more functional work, a large part of the design comes out of the process. With this work I usually start with an Idea, make it, then try to make it better.  This may involve altering a shape or changing a color pattern several times. Constantly filtering out unwanted elements of a design allows my work to continue evolving.

How has your work changed over the years?
When I started exploring three-dimensional work, I worked mainly in clay, wood, and metal. Some of this work had small elements of flameworked glass. This work was much larger in scale due to the materials and influences at the time. After moving around a few times, storage and transporting large heavy sculptures became an issue. As I got more involved in the glass community, glass became my main focus. I now have a line of functional glass and continue to make small-scale sculptures.

What is the most challenging thing about working in your medium?  
Like most mediums, the process of working with glass provides many life lessons. Working with glass is a humbling experience. It requires patience, persistence, and focus. It is common for hours or even days of work to crash to the floor for what seems like no reason. There are days when I wonder why I chose to work with such a fragile, unforgiving material.

Why or how did you choose your medium?
I’m still not sure if I chose glass or glass chose me. Over the years it seems like we have shaped and molded each other to the point where we have a somewhat of a symbiotic relationship. We don’t always get along, but we manage to make it work.

 If you weren’t doing this work, what would you do?
I did a little bit of everything before being devoted to art/craft. It’s hard to imagine doing anything else. I do have concerns about the energy and resources that a glass studio requires. This is the main thing I question about my career choice. I guess if I had to change my occupation, I would like to do something that doesn’t add to our current environmental issues. I would like to think the positive aspects of arts/crafts counterbalance the negative impact it has on our resources.

How is your work integrated with the community?
I try to stay involved with some public glass studios to teach classes and interact with the community. Continuing these traditional forms of art/craft defines part of the culture in our community. The void of these traditions is replaced with more destructive forms of consumerism. I like the thought of my functional works used in everyday life by our local patrons. The recent emergence of a local awareness has helped encouraged more support in the art/craft community. I hope that this idea grows and results in a more sustainable local economy.

 

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