During the month of March, we are highlighting five women artists. The project is inspired by the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ “Can you name #5WomenArtists?” campaign. Next up is artist Nancy Callan, who works in glass.
About Nancy Callan
Nancy Callan is a renowned Seattle-based artist and a key player in the vibrant Northwest glass community. Born in Boston in 1964, Callan went on to earn her BFA from Massachusetts College of Art in 1996. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Seattle to immerse herself in the discipline of glass.
Because of the complexity of the process, glassblowing often requires that artists work in small teams, with defined roles. This is also a mentoring opportunity for artists learning technique. Callan’s high level of training comes from 19 years as a key member of maestro Lino Tagliapietra’s glassblowing team. She continues to work collaboratively with many artists, including Mel Douglas and Katherine Grey.
Callan has also instructed several workshops and classes at the Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, as well as at other institutions across the globe.
Callan has been exhibiting her work for more than 20 years. Her sculptures reside in national and international collections, including the Shanghai Museum of Art in Shanghai, Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, and the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner. A number of galleries across the country represent Callan, including the Traver Gallery in Seattle.
While glassblowing has traditionally been a male-dominated field, many trailblazing women like Joey Kirkpatrick, Flora C. Mace, Sonja Blomdahl, and Callan have made their mark. Callan once said in a 2011 TEDxTalk, “I take my visibility as a glassblower very seriously. I want to inspire women and men to see that you don’t have to be a big guy to [be] working glass.”
A large part of Callan’s practice is rooted in experimentation. In her artist’s statement, she says, “I am amazed at how much there still is for me to explore in the material.”
Her practice involves using traditional glassblowing techniques to create new and modern works. By doing so, Callan stays true to the traditions of the material while expanding the possibilities for what glass can do, “which are indeed infinite,” she says.
Whatcom Museum Curator of Art Amy Chaloupka states, “Callan’s forms are playful and iconic—tops, clouds, dancers, and snowmen give her opportunity to use the bumps and ridges of those shapes to highlight and accentuate the surface design.”
Callan’s piece Smoky the Snowman (2019) is a three-tiered glass snowman with a stylized “carrot” nose. It is made of three hand-blown black glass orbs with white swirling lines. She creates the surface pattern by rolling a bubble of glass on rods of colored glass (called “cane”) that stick to the surface and melt into the bubble as she shapes it. A video of Callan and her team creating the snowman, made by Museum of Glass in Tacoma, can be found here.
Smoky the Snowman will be on view in the Whatcom Museum’s upcoming exhibition Fluid Formations. The exhibition will run April 10 through Oct. 10, 2021.
You can see more of Callan’s work on her website.