Ben's Lens: An Interview with Emily Marie

Ben's Lens: An Interview with Emily Marie

March 11, 2020

Emily Marie from Salt Lake City Utah has been one of my favorite glass artists for years. We’ve been friendly since we got acquainted, and I always enjoy seeing her work online along with bumping into her at industry events. At one time during my vagabonding across the country, Emily Marie heard I was headed to the Pacific Northwest and found out I needed a place to work. She connected me with Brie Yost and Nate Dizzle of The Boro School in Seattle after her recent experience at their annual Pipe Masters event. The Boro School gave me a place to create, with access to a lathe and glass, tools and my own tech (or two). It was there that I created most of my most important work including collaborations with Dizzle, Emily Marie, Banjo, and many others. It was there that I met J. Cost and traded him a cup for photographs of all that work. That sparked his interest in DV which eventually led him to Vail to spend seven months helping me build the brand. It led to my first meetings with artists that would turn into friends, and many that I have represented since those initial meetings.

 
BB: We met years ago in Vegas when I was pitching my (at the time) new philanthropy project to anyone who would hear me out. You were one of the first artists to get on board. What do you remember from when we met?
EM: I honestly remember thinking how awesome it was to see someone who was both philanthropically minded, AND super organized and determined. It’s a rarity, and I was so happy to see it all come together a few months later! The cups we made when we met up in Salt Lake City were gorgeous, and it has been awesome to see the way the project has grown in the years since then.

We connected in Salt Lake City where you gave me three Kinetic Protozoa stems which I assembled months later in Seattle when I had studio access. Two of those found homes and one is still available.
Was this a question you needed me to answer?

Nope. Just letting everyone know.

You can see our remaining goblet from that series by clicking here.

Have you made many cups or much drinkware?
I only really got into making cups within the last year or two. I made pipes for years and years and loved it, but my creative process started to feel a little stale after so many years, and I decided to make a radical change and see what came of it. I believe very deeply in getting out of your comfort zone as an artist, so I committed to making nothing smokeable for 6-12 months. What came out of that time was a lot of internal head-scratching, and eventually, a great love of glassware and an entirely new body of work.

I’m curious about the inspiration behind the Protozoa line of you work. Where did that come from?
For years I have been a little (ok a lot) obsessed with microscopic life. I have a book of prints from this crazy German who, in a quest for artistic inspiration, started taking water samples from the ocean around the Italian coastline, looking at it under a microscope, and making lithographic prints of what he found. They are these beautiful single-celled marine protozoa with super ornate skeletons, and I just never get sick of looking at them. The thing that really got me about that book is that this guy, a starving German artist with an amateur interest in science and a primitive microscope from the 1800s, set out to gain some inspiration and ended up accidentally discovering over 1,000 new species of marine protozoa. I guess I just love the overlap of science and art, and how glass occupies both of those worlds so well. I started trying to replicate some of the shapes in my glass work a few years ago, and it has led me down some really fun and creative paths.

Tell us about your studio set up. What kind of torch do you run? Do you have a favorite tool?
I have a gorgeous 50mm Herbert Arnold that I still get excited about every single time I turn it on. I have a ton of tools but my favorite one is still a pair of scissor jacks, which an old friend and early glass influence of mine named Seth Brayer made for me from a regular pair of long tweezers. That is the first tool I ever owned, and still my standby favorite.

What have you been making lately? I’m loving the Sake sets I’ve been seeing online!
Thank you! I’m making a ton of glassware, from sake sets to wine glasses and tea sets, and I’ve been tinkering around with a few designs for tableware as well (larger bowls and plates). Recently I made my first big whiskey decanters on a lathe, which I loved and will definitely be playing around with more. I also started making glass chopsticks, sort of as an exercise in tedium, but they kind of blew up so I started producing whole sushi sets to go along with them.  It’s quite a different type of work from what I’m used to, but I am really enjoying exploring it.

What’s your favorite drink?
Probably this epic hot toddy a friend taught me how to make a few years ago. It has tons of lemon and ginger and honey and a couple of secret ingredients in it, and it’s just about guaranteed to put me in a better mood every time I make one!  I’ll add a jigger of good rye whiskey if I’m celebrating, or keep it virgin if it’s a school night.

Do you use your own cups or collect any other artist’s drink ware?
It is pretty rare that I’ll keep a glass for myself, unless there’s a minor flaw or something. I do still have the very first wine cup I ever made, and I don’t ever plan on selling it. I would love to start collecting glassware from other artists!  Maybe you could point me in the right direction?

I’ll do my best, let me just hit up my cup guy! Do you have a favorite cup maker? I think the decanters Micah Evans was making a few years back are probably the coolest vessels I’ve ever seen.
I’m a big fan myself. Hopefully one day I can carry them here next to yours!

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is one of the organizations I support with my project, which was in part inspired by you. If you feel comfortable sharing about this I would love to include that. I completely understand if you would rather leave that out.
I will totally share that! I have decided I want to spread some awareness in that regard with my website, but I’m not totally sure how best to do that. Maybe you can help me? We finally made our orange cup!

I would be happy to help you integrate your story and this cause into your brand.
I was diagnosed with MS about six years ago. I’ve been insanely blessed to be functioning as well as I have for the past five years or so, but that first year was a doozy. At one point I was paralyzed on my right side, unable to walk unassisted, and absolutely crippled by vertigo and double-vision. I couldn’t even read for a few months there. Having your body revolt like that and not having any idea when/if you’ll get better is terrifying, but it also provided me with a very powerful and liberating perspective on life. The minute I could blow glass again, I knew I needed to push harder in my work while I could. That year I started competing at glass shows and started my independent brand. Since then I’ve also become way more active and adventurous than I ever dreamed of being. I don’t know how long it would have taken me to develop the courage to do any of that if I hadn’t had that terrifying episode. For that reason, I am deeply grateful for my experience with MS. However, my case is a rare one, and most people with MS are not nearly so fortunate. For this reason I donate regularly to the local Multiple Sclerosis Society and do my best to spread awareness about the disease. Since I started sharing my experience with MS online, I’ve also become a sort of contact point for people struggling with the disease, and every month or so I’ll get a message from some glass artist or collector I’ve never met who has just been diagnosed or is experiencing a flare-up. It feels really gratifying to provide an ear and a shoulder to people in that awful and lonely position, and I’m really happy to do it whenever I can.

As functional as my body is in most ways though, my MS does most definitely affect my glass work. Heat is a common and dangerous trigger for most people with MS, which makes working directly with fire a complicated business, especially in the summer months. Overheating even just a little can cause a flare-up for me, which means that in a heartbeat I could lose control of my right arm or suddenly be unable to stand. At the very least, getting too hot for a few minutes will earn me a day of wicked fatigue and brain fog, which on its own is pretty debilitating. I keep a couple of ice vests handy at all times in the studio and I have two industrial-sized swamp coolers pointing straight at me. Even with all those precautions it is still not safe for me to be in the studio for a solid 2-3 months out of the year, so I can really only produce glass in the cooler months, which has made my work more scarce but also much more intentional. Since my body can do whatever it wants to while it’s cool out, I am neck-deep in glass in the cooler months, and totally loving it!

What got you into glass? How long have you been torching? Who taught you and whose work inspires you?
I discovered glass blowing totally by accident almost exactly eleven years ago. I was on a date with a man who is still a good friend, and after dinner he took me to a studio where he was apprenticing at the time and gave me a lesson. I was instantly hooked. In fact it backfired on him a bit, because instead of going back to his place for a nightcap after the lesson, I stayed at the studio and kept playing until the owner (Kristian Merwin, now the owner of Nectar Collector) closed up for the night! Before he kicked me out though, he took a look at what I’d been making and said I’d be welcome to do an apprenticeship there too if I wanted to. I worked for Kristian for about 7 years before splitting off to build my own studio, and eventually came back to rent a bench space in the same studio I’d helped him build.  There are so many artists who inspire me, but I think that Kristian, LaceFace, Justin Jenicke and Micah Evans are for sure in the top ten.

I know you’ve been getting into skiing, so are you coming to shred Vail this winter and throw down at Bat Country Studios? Consider this a formal invitation!
A trip full of the two things I love best! Is it ok to say “DUHHH” and also “Fuck yeah!” in a blog interview? 

*This interview began before Emily’s recent trip on which we accomplished both of those things. The skiing was a blast, and our session in the studio was one of the most fun creative sessions I’ve had. You can see what we made here.

You’re an adult who blows glass for a living, adventures outside with your adorable dog, and has a ball pit in your living room. I guess my question is, can it get any better?
I really couldn’t ask for better! I believe very firmly in the power of play, especially when the outside world seems to just get darker and weirder every year. I live by a quote from a really awesome webcomic artist named Randall Munroe: “We’re grownups now, and it’s our turn to decide what that means.”

If you want to share the story of Oscar Dumpster Muffin, I’m sure our audience would love to meet your furry friend as well.
I will take literally any excuse to talk about my puppy! I found Oscar in the dumpster behind the studio when she was a puppy. It was the end of January in Salt Lake City, it was snowing and freezing cold, and I heard a funny noise coming out of the dumpster. I climbed up and peeked over the edge to see this slimy, disgusting little eight week old purse dog looking back up at me! I named her after Oscar the Grouch before I figured out she was female, and the name stuck. I’m an outdoorsy person who used to train horses and chase cows in the summer, and there is no way in hell I would ever have chosen a ten pound ShiTzu (or whatever she is) for a pet, but she absolutely stole my heart from the minute we met. I’ve taken her with me on glass trips across the country, hiked with her all over Utah, I’ve even stuffed her in my backpack and rappelled off of cliffs in the southern desert. She’s my adventure buddy, my comic relief, and my Familiar.

A year and a half ago she was run over by an Escalade while I was away on a collab trip with LaceFace (an all-time glass hero of mine, who went above and beyond to support me through this ordeal). The accident damaged her spinal cord and crushed her pelvis, and the vets told us she would never walk again and would have to wear a diaper for the rest of her life. I flew home thinking we would have to put her down, but when she suddenly started showing signs of recovery, we took a chance and started raising money for her treatment. My friends and the whole glass community came together like I couldn’t have dreamed, and we raised most of the money for her treatment in just a few days of campaigning. Six months later she was hiking with me again! It was among the more moving and humbling and beautiful experiences of my life, watching people come together to help us both, and watching her bounce back like the miraculous little trash muppet she is. We have a lot in common, this ridiculous little animal and I. We’ve both been through paralysis and fought our way back, we’ve both overcome the odds. We’re both goofy as hell but secretly badass too. She’s my spirit animal.

Anything else we should know about?
A few months ago I launched my website where my glassware will be available only during occasional drops, or by custom orders, which can be placed with me on Instagram or through the Custom Inquiry form at emilymarieglass.com

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Having Emily Marie in the studio was an absolute pleasure, and we made some of my favorite collaborations that I’ve been a part of. Her passion for glass is obvious, and her creativity makes her unlike any other artist I’ve worked with. Her projects are ambitious, but she is not deterred. After we broke and messed up two tumblers for our decanter set she immediately began prepping for the fourth, which now makes the pair to the first in our set. Her attitude is awesome despite obstacles like these and her MS, and it’s really inspiring to work and spend time with her.

I’m elated to be able to represent her work for the first time, in addition to our collaborations. I’m looking forward to working with her soon in the studio too, even if ski season is coming to an end!


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