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Friday, February 3, 2012

Playing with Fire — Flameworker Amy Lemaire makes wearable glass sculpture

Profile by Carmen Marti

Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Carmen Marti. All rights reserved. 


Amy Lemaire
Just more than a year ago, artist and educator Amy Lemaire was living in Brooklyn, making her name in the New York art scene and traveling the country to show her work and teach.

Today, Lemaire continues to gain acclaim in the art world and travels the country to show her work and teach, except now she’s based in Louisville and makes her name in the local art scene. For instance, Lemaire is the featured artist in the February 2012 Museum Store Spotlight at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft. She has been showing and selling her work at KMAC since she got to town in late 2010.

A museum setting is ideal for Lemaire’s work. Through a process called flameworking (torching glass tubes into a malleable material), she fabricates exquisitely detailed glass beads, then fashions them into iconographic jewelry reminiscent of ancient Egypt or African tribal elders. It’s an age-old practice, dating from as far back as 1 B.C. Syria.

Trail of Tears, by Amy Lemaire, Flameworked
soda-lime glass. 13.5" x 8" x .5X”, 2012.
A painter by formal training (B.F.A., Art Institute of Chicago; M.F.A., Pratt Institute in New York), Lemaire began fusing her painting background with flameworking at Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago in the early 2000s. After taking a workshop, she kick-started a dormant program at Lillstreet and eventually established a glass art department there, complete with a customized flameworking classroom and a full formation of equipment. She set up her own studio on site, creating a presence for glass within the community.

“[People were] really responding to the classes,” Lemaire says of that time in Chicago. “It was good to have a working artist in the community collective. You have to show people the way, not just teach classes.”

That’s the paradigm Lemaire has established in Louisville as well. She is part of the collective at Louisville Glassworks, a large-scale space on Market Street dedicated to making glass art. Lemaire does all her “hot glass work” in an open studio, welcoming interaction with the public. “That’s part of the reason I love the studio at Glassworks,” she says. “It’s a format where people can come up and approach me; unlike a gallery, where you don’t meet the artist.”

Meeting the public is an integral part of Lemaire’s creative process at this point. After establishing a legacy in Chicago that endures today, she left in 2008 for graduate school at Pratt. “I went to Pratt for personal development,” Lemaire recalls. “I wanted to take my work to another level.”

When she started her M.F.A. program, Lemaire had her eye on the international scene. But as she went to school and made a life in Brooklyn, she was inspired by the progressive local scene she found. “I began to look at the art scene in a different way,” says Lemaire. “Now the local scene is where it’s at for me.”

In Louisville, she has found a welcoming local environment and an active art base. Last summer, for example, Lemaire organized “Distill,” a pop-up art event at Salvo Collective. The event featured Chris Chappell creating a painting during the event, an interactive painting by Marcine Franckowiak, a wire installation by Curtis Anthony, drawings by Derrick Snodgrass and a video installation by Lora Gettelfinger. Lemaire showed large-scale paintings enhanced by viewing with 3-D glasses.

“Louisville is a great town,” she says. “The community is supportive of artists trying to get things going. If you want to have a show, you can have a show. The community is more than willing to help.”

This orientation plays right into Lemaire’s vision. “Art is a function of people getting together,” she believes. “It’s communication, and connecting the past to the future. I work in a lot of different mediums and the theme that connects them is communication.”

Open Grail, by Amy Lemaire. Flameworked
soda-lime glass. 12" x 10" x 1.25", 2012.
Lemaire’s glass work is a prime example of expressing the continuum of past and future through art. Not only has flameworking historically been used to make jewelry that clearly expresses a visual message, but the artform provides Lemaire a contemporary vehicle for communicating her personal connection to communities around the world. Many of the pieces in Lemaire’s collection at KMAC were born as “a form of political art lite,” she muses. “A peaceful approach to political work. I was inspired by protests in the United States and around the world, and I wanted to make work connected to this energy. Glass enables me to voice political views in a personal way.”

Glass has also helped Lemaire settle into life in Louisville. “I was surprised the first time I came to Louisville and saw what an oasis for glass it is,” she recalls. Not only is there a burgeoning local scene, but the major international glass societies — Glass Art Society, International Society of Glass Beadmakers — each held an annual conference in Louisville in the past two consecutive years. “Louisville is well situated,” Lemaire says.

And she doesn’t just mean the “vibrant local and international scenes.” Lemaire travels for work constantly. “I’m based in Louisville,” she says, “but I operate nationwide.” She remains active in the art scenes of Chicago and New York City/Brooklyn by exhibiting regularly, represented by galleries in each city, and teaching at local institutions in both places.These days the world is a really small place. The way we communicate helps make it easy to keep track of people and to live out of the city. …Large cities can be distracting. If you can find a place in the world where you’re happy and can make art, then…Louisville is doing that for me now.”

Lemaire’s jewelry will be featured in the Museum Store through February. For more information about the artist, go to amylemaire.com.

Carmen Martí has been a professional writer and editor for more than 20 years and an independent contractor since 1995. She has filled a variety of writing and editing roles in print media, health care, education, business and the arts. Carmen worked fulltime as a publicist for the University of Chicago News Office from 1991-1995, as an editorial assistant for Inside Chicago magazine from 1989-1991, and as a high school English and humanities teacher at the Harvard School from 1986-1990.

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