A Conversation with Elin Christopherson

[Susan Longini]

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Oakland based artist, CCA professor, and GLANC member Elin Christopherson.

SJL: Please give some background so we know something about you.

EC: I was born in Berkeley and raised in Oakland and Berkeley. I grew up in the hippie times during the somewhat naive but fervent questioning of authoritarian points of view.
My first job was delivering the Oakland Tribune on a small paper route. I learned to ride a motorcycle as a child, and got my first street motorcycle at 15. Along with money saved from my after school job, my Grandmother helped finance my ride.

Mead Fermenters


SJL: How/why did you choose glass?

EC: I first saw glassblowing at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Novato as a child. I now believe that I was watching Dick Marquis make marbles. I told my mother I wanted to learn glassblowing, and she bought me a book. It turned out to be a lampworking book, so it was not any help. I never saw such a thing again until I came to California College of Arts and Crafts and wandered into the hot glass shop there. I was mesmerized watching the students work, and immediately signed up for a Glass class taught by Marvin Lipofsky.


Owens Valley Jug


SJL: Glass is a big field. Can you tell us about your journey in this medium?

EC: Yes, Glass is certainly a growing and ever-morphing field! I began as a glassblower, yet I felt there was a trap in strictly creating functional crafts. Also, there was a tight-knit posse of men who owned shops in the East Bay, and they protected their turf. I briefly worked at a few of these shops however, and gained good knowledge about working efficiency.

While still in school, I won a Saxe scholarship to Pilchuck and, well, as you always hear, it changed my life. This community was open and fostered learning, growth, and self expression. We could share with each other, grow together, meet and make friends from around the world. What an amazing tribe the Studio Glass Art Movement built! This tribe is still growing and connects with a thread young aspiring artists with those who created the structure of the movement. It is truly inter-generational now.

My work was always about hot glass transformed with other materials. This is a result of my sculptural training at CCAC.


Trumpet Canopy


SJL: What guides your artistic philosophy?

EC: I have always been a restless artist, and I am continually striving to imbue cultural meaning in my work. Glass as a primary medium is challenging technically. There are some days that I curse painters and photographers! On the other hand, I have found it very important for me to learn all aspects about glass that I can. I am always learning more about the medium and this is actually one of the beautiful things about working with glass; it truly is a life journey. Intimidating yet powerful, glass is a durable and permanent material and it deserves proper respect. Images, shapes, and forms that I make will last through time. While creating these lasting objects and sculptures, I wish to speak a little about me, a little about my culture and times, and a lot more about universal and long lasting things. The art-craft tradition is a beautiful human continuum.


Trumpet Canopy (detail)


SJL: Tell us about your public art projects.

EC:  I have created glass for two libraries, a park, a civic center, two medical centers, and an outdoor mall. I have worked almost exclusively with my partner and friend, Troy Corliss, on these projects. Troy is a sculptor (BFA  U.C. Davis) and an amazing artist and person. For many of these projects, I was the designer and maker of the glass components. Most of this work has been extremely hands-on in that Troy and I fabricated all the parts and installed the work ourselves. Our last project together (Embarcadero Center 2 and 3 murals) was an exception. We were the designers and image creators, and then we turned over the production and installation to a factory and glass installing firm. These murals are 18 ft. by 23 ft. each.

SJL: What are you currently working on?

EC: I am using my Hot Shop time to experiment on various new things. One is to make chandeliers using multiple blown components and LED light sources. The flowering clustering nature of plants is an inspiration for the forms. 

Another current project is mold blowing. I designed the mold on the computer using 3D computer modeling techniques and then I used the software to CNC rout the mold. Ironically, the shape is an albarello, an ancient Persian medicine jar. Back to the continuum of crafts!


Quilt Piece


If you have not seen Computer Numeric Control, here is how it works: Formerly, a skilled machinist would operate the milling machine or router and know how fast the bit should rotate according to the material machined, and how fast to feed the rotating bit. Now, you affix the material (in this case cherry wood) to the table, program the machine, and step out of the room, press run, and watch it go from behind a strong plexiglass window. If you made a programming mistake, you are safely out of harm's way as the tool bit collides with something it should not, or goes flying across the room. Big entertainment for an old school crafter such as myself!

I am also painting on glass a lot. This is vitreous enamel fired onto the glass. I love painting on glass because I can put detailed and subtle imagery on the surface and I can build color and image up in layers through multiple firings. In this way, it feels very much like the process of Fine Art printing. Decisions can be made throughout the steps of making. Very different from the spontaneity of blown work, where you must make the right moves at the right time while the glass is gooey, and then stop the process by allowing it to cool so the shape freezes and becomes hard and stone like.

I paint and fire the glass components at least three to five times. Currently, I am juxtaposing botanical imagery with cultural objects and portraits of people. I am equating Environmental Justice with Social Justice, some of the things I think we need to work on in this world today.


Quilt Piece (detail)


SJL: Where can we see your work?

EC: You can see the Public Art at Edenvale Library in San Jose, Suisun Library in Suisun City, Roseville Civic Center, Embarcadero 2 and 3.

I participated in various group shows this year locally, but I currently have no gallery representation.

SJL: Anything else you want to tell us?

EC: Fine Art was created in western Europe in the 1700's and thus has only existed for 300 years. Crafts have existed since the beginning of humanity, and will continue. I believe that going forward, Arts and Crafts will come together again. Glass Artists need not separate their individuality and perspective from their craft. Glass art will endure.

SJL: Thank you Elin!


Veinous Laurel