ST. JOSEPH — Walk into the lobby of The Inn at Harbor Shores and you’ll see April Wagner’s work.
Supported by cables anchored to the center of the ceiling and dancing in the light is the large, suspended glass sculpture she created at her Pontiac, Mich., Epiphany studios specifically for this space. More than 550 hand-blown pieces of glass in every shade of blue, with pops of white and yellow, make up “L’eau de vie,” the French title whose English translation means “Water of Life.” Since its installation nearly two years ago, Wagner’s specially commissioned glass sculpture has become the much-talked about centerpiece of The Inn at Harbor Shores.
On Friday, Wagner returns to the site for the opening reception of “View Through a Colored Prism,” a solo exhibition of her much smaller glass pieces on view at The Inn’s second-floor gallery space through Sept. 12.
“People often ask me if I miss these pieces after I install them,” Wagner says by phone from Pontiac. “I don’t miss it, because it’s something I’ve conceptualized for this space or this environment. The two things I enjoy the most is the process of making something and the response it gets from the viewer. But it was really cool to walk into The Inn and see it. It was kind of a trip down memory lane – ‘Oh, I remember making that part of it,’ and ‘Oh, I remember making that part of it’ – it really made me reflect back to the whole process.”
“L’eau de vie,” meant to reflect the feeling of water and sand to go with the hotel’s theme, remains Wagner’s largest glass sculpture ever created. She began talking to developers about the project about a year in advance, and several weeks to make all of the glass pieces. Remarkably, it took just six days to install.
“I arranged maybe 10 percent of it at my studio because I wanted to do most of it on site,” Wagner says. “To visually get it to curl like that with the changing colors took a lot of planning ahead, but when I got on site I saw some other things happening that needed to be changed. It took six days to do the installation, and those are really long 14-hour days standing on a lift 15 feet in the air looking and then standing down and looking. It was very labor intensive and a very interesting process.”
Wagner, who grew up in Muskegeon, has always had a penchant for art, but it wasn’t until she attended the College for Creative Studies in Detroit that she developed a passion for manipulating molten glass.
“I used to sit at the end of my grandma’s driveway and make little clay pots in the mud,” she says. “So, I knew from early on I was going to do something artistic. I ended up going to Interlochen Arts Academy for high school. I originally thought I was going to do ceramics, but then when I got to college I took a glass blowing class, and I loved it. And that was it.”
Wagner started blowing glass in 1992, and started her own business right out of school, selling her work at art fairs. In 1997 she built her state-of-the-art, 4,000-square-foot Epiphany studios in Pontiac, which remains the largest private hot glass blowing studio in the Midwest.
“Glass is not an easy craft to learn,” she says. “It’s very demanding, and expensive to do. Once I decided, I knew it was really a lifelong commitment to see what I could do with it.”
Wagner’s work is known for its own contemporary twist to the traditional Fazzoletto technique, which originated in the Venini factory of Murano, Italy, during the 1930s and was later popularized by Seattle glass artists. In addition to The Inn at Harbor Shores, her work is in many public and private collections, including those of The Four Seasons in Vail, Colo., The Hyatt Maui Regency Resort & Spa, General Motors and Pfizer. She is currently working on a large project for a company in Dearborn.
“What I love about glass is that it is very immediate and responsive,” Wagner says. “It is clear and sparkly and liquid then it’s solid and has all these interesting qualities to it that you can bring an idea to or a vision to and really explore. And the glass, in my opinion, responds back. It’s that dialogue that’s really interesting to me.”
That conversation can be seen throughout the work in “View Through a Colored Prism,” a series of wall-mounted glass pieces.
“They are very colorful and different shapes than what you see on the chandelier piece,” Wagner says. “There’s three pieces that are more investigating a flat, linear kind of shape, and then the other ones are kind of coming out from the center. I call them the lily series, because they are a lot more flower-like, while the others are more graphic design in nature.”
One of the exhibit’s highlights is a red, linear piece titled “Red Rose Window.”
“A couple of years ago I had a project where I was creating a piece for Lincoln for their auto show booth display,” Wagner says. “I originally proposed it in red and had all the pieces made for it, and I got a call from them and they changed their mind, and wanted it in orange. So I had all of these red pieces so I started playing with them and moving them around and pushing them together to see what kind of form or shape they would come into together. This is the result.”
Wagner says some of the pieces in the exhibit play with the idea of lines and thickness.
“For a long time now I’ve been interested in glass and its linear qualities,” she says. “How could we make a line out of something that is essentially always a ball? When you are drawing something the gesture of a line can set the whole tone. So I try to be very cognizant of how the thickness of the glass is interacting with the shape of the glass. I think that’s a really interesting way to think about glass, and look at blown glass, because you’re not used to seeing it in such a flat or low relief manner.”
Of course, the thinner those “lines” are the thinner the glass needs to be.
“People inherently have this fear of glass breaking,” Wagner says. “I mean, glass breaks, it’s a reality. I try to go right up to that edge where I make people a little bit nervous but not too nervous. If you’re too nervous you could never envision a piece in your home. But there’s such a beauty to how thin you can get this material, and how fragile it looks, but how strong it really is.”
Contact: jbonfiglio@TheHP.com, 932-0364, Twitter: @HPBonfiglio
What: Opening reception for “View Through a Colored Prism” works in glass by April Wagner
When: 5:30-7:30 p.m. Friday; the exhibit continues through Sept. 12
Where: The Gallery at The Inn at Harbor Shores, 800 Whitwam Drive, St. Joseph
How much: Free
Contact: 983-1111 or www.innatharborshores.com
Artist info: epiphanyglass.com