‘Make me a vessel and I will paint a raven on it’

A fire polished vase blown by Lumel Studios with a raven painted on it in glass powder with gum arabic by Tyson Istead and Nicole Bauberger

For the past year or so, I have been collaborating with the makers of vessels to co-create unique raven-adorned cups and bowls. They were released at a reception on May 4 at the Lumel Glass Studio in Whitehorse.

It began here, in Whitehorse, and the glass artists at Lumel Studio and I tried a variety of methods of making ravens on vessels and came up with the technique that I favour right now. I use powdered glass, or frit, mixed with gum arabic to paint on the vessels—mostly painted ravens, sometimes with simple Yukon landscapes. On white vessels, I use powdered black glass; and on black, I use white and paint the space around the raven and its details.

Lumel glass artist Tyson Istead and I developed a technique of “fire polishing” this painting to make it permanent. We bring these painted vessels up to about 515℉ in a “hot box.” Then we pick up the vessel on a blob of hot glass and work it between the torch and the glory hole, until all the gum arabic burns away and leaves the glass fused to the vessel’s surface. Into the annealer it goes, to cool down gradually, leaving an original painting you can also drink out of, that’s even dishwasher safe.

Recently, I have also been playing with masking out raven forms in glue, and sandblasting around them, and Lumel has both vessels that have been treated this way, and pendants with ravens sandblasted onto found shards of broken glass, with the edges polished smooth and wearable.

I have also been painting on porcelain. This fall, supported by the Yukon Advanced Artists Award, I travelled to Montréal to work collaboratively in Marie Côté’s studio. Marie and I met when she was in the territory to undertake a residency at McAuley House, in Dawson City, with the Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture. Marie was using clay she found along one of the gold creeks to make drawings. When I visited her at her studio in Montréal, Marie showed me how it had fired to a dark red. I also observed two Inuit artists from Nunavik, in northern Québec, painting onto vessels that she had thrown.

Before travelling to Montréal, I collected small amounts of clay from a few places in Whitehorse, with the help of Tagish sculptor Sandra Grace Storey. Marie asked me what kind of pieces I wanted to paint on.

“Make me a vessel and I will paint a raven on it,” I replied.

Marie threw the beautiful porcelain bowl forms she has perfected over her years of practice, and then some cups that I modified by applying raven feet. On each of them I painted ravens using Yukon clay. When we opened the kiln, I didn’t know whether we would just get knowledge and experience out of it, or something beautiful. Fortunately the surprise was a good one.

You can find the glass vessels on display at Lumel Studios, and vessels in both glass and porcelain at Art House Carcross until mid-July.

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