On the Spark episode “By Hand,” glass artist Pamina Traylor turns molten glass into pieces of lyrical beauty. Even though Traylor’s glass work is by hand, her hands initially can’t touch the glass itself. She begins by dipping a pipe into a lake of molten glass the consistency of honey, gathering it out, and starting to shape and blow the glass. Then Traylor often relies on many sets of hands to strike while the glass is hot.
Having received her undergraduate degree in mathematics, Traylor was pursuing an M.B.A. at SFSU and working in the stock transfer department of a downtown San Francisco securities firm. She stumbled upon the art glass program at San Francisco State University and signed up for her first glass course the very next day. The sudden interest turned into passion as Traylor traded a planned career in business for a new life as a full-time artist.
When she told her parents that she wanted to be an artist, they assumed that they would have to support her, but Traylor has been able to earn a living through teaching, producing studio glass work and creating her art. She began a new path in education, receiving her M.F.A. from the Rochester Institute of Technology, and has completed additional studies at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Pilchuck Glass School and San Francisco State University. She was awarded fellowships at the Creative Glass Center of America in both 1995 and 2003.
She is currently an adjunct professor at California College of the Arts, where she was chair of the glass program in 1999 and 2000. She also works at Pinzette Studios for Michael Sosin, producing handmade functional glassware for sale in galleries and museum shops. She produces 50 to 80 pieces a day when working at Pinzette Studios, which works out to about one piece every six minutes. Traylor says the repetitive experience of working in the shop has been the best way to learn. “When you do it over and over again, that’s when you start to get good at it.”
A hot shop requires a furnace to be operating 24/7 at over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit to keep hot glass from hardening and damaging the furnace. Few artists can afford to have their own; working at Pinzette Studios enables Traylor to utilize their hot shop for her own personal work. In addition, she and her partner have just completed the conversion of an old office into a live/work space so now Traylor can do cold work in her home studio, sanding, etching and finishing her pieces.
Traylor’s personal works are now on display in galleries and collections across the country. Much of her current work involves combining other materials with glass. Some of the new pieces have text and photographic images so you can look through the object and see how it magnifies and distorts the words. “It makes you think a little bit about how words are distorted when we speak to each other … how what you say is different from what is heard.”
The ambiguity of language is a common theme in Traylor’s work, often represented by glass shaped into tonguelike forms. She uses tongues as a symbol of language, using extreme versions iconically. Though she tends to have an overall view of the piece before creating it, she is more excited by moving around roadblocks during the process. She says, “The best pieces are the ones that develop because of things you discover along the way.”