The glass arts community in Norfolk mirrors the most marvelous glass art cultures found the whole world over. There are over 30,000 pieces of glass artwork in the Chrysler Museum’s collection, while their Perry Glass Studio is host to glass art production, glassblowing demonstrations and was the setting for the Glass Art Society Conference several years ago bringing international artists from contemporary glass to the city. Their NEON Arts District neighbor d’Art Center, a community art center for visionaries in the visual arts, is where Cathy-Jo Ramsey creates her gorgeous glasswork known as Glass Imaginings.
At Ramsey’s studio space there’s an array of glass plates; tiled landscapes and seascapes; ornate ornaments such as fish and trees; an assortment of accessories including nightlights, wine stoppers and pulls for ceiling fans; eclectic earrings in designs such as dice, hearts, teapots and dogs; precious pendants and necklaces; and her one-of-a-kind oysters. Ramsey’s wearable and displayable glass is made through lampwork—sculpting glass by melting colored glass rods over a gas-oxygen torch—and with a kiln using heat to bond separate pieces of glass. She regularly gives dazzling demos within her workshop for her luminous lampwork, shaping glass as it bends in a blaze and its colors glow over the flame. This skillful production of glass itself is as enchanting as the final product.
Glass Gallery: Cathy-Jo Ramsey with her art at d'Art Center
Earrings and Ornaments: Ramsey creates fish ornaments to teapot earrings and
anything else from her imagination
Oysters On the Half Shell: Ramsey uses her lampwork and glass rod palette to whet
your palate by making a platter of oysters with a squeeze of lemon
Originally from Chincoteague, the island’s coastal culture was the muse for Ramsey’s glass oyster creations. Now a Norfolk native for many years, Ramsey learned more about the craft from classes and mentoring under masters John Quillen and Ali Rogan among others. She juried into d’Art Center over 15 years ago and is their only glass artist. Lampwork was unique yet ubiquitous to Murano, Italy, where in the 16th and 17th centuries women would use a foot bellow to heat up oil lamps to melt glass rods. “I should have married an Italian and gone to Italy and learn glass and done that,” Ramsey says jokingly, though it’s a fact that her craft has been shaped by the culture of Coastal Virginia. She adds, “I love what I’m doing.”
Lighting Up for Lampwork: During a d'Art demo, Ramsey's torch shapes this hot rod
into a glass heart
Ramsey begins with a stainless steel mandrel for her earrings and pendants and an off-mandrel technique for her oysters. She uses a prod, heats it up to resemble a blob that she mashes that’s identical to a lollipop before infusing different colored rods. “I use Italian glass…but these are my colors, this is like my palette where a painter would have their paint, I have my rods,” Ramsey explains. “It creates beautiful, beautiful different colors.” She uses tweezers and a spoon to compress the object into a concave shape along with a punty as she melts an end of an oyster so she can draw strings of a necklace through it. On average, an oyster takes 20–30 minutes to make, while only four minutes for her fish.
Each piece of glasswork enters an annealer (or kiln) at 960 degrees and gradually decreases in temperature over the course of six hours so that the inside and outside of the object cool off evenly to prevent stress in the glass. Handmade and crafted by torch and flame, this imaginative glasswork is now ready to be worn and displayed as flawless fine art.
Learn more at D-ArtCenter.org and visit Cathy-Jo Ramsey for a demonstration and to purchase her glasswork at d’Art Center at 740 Duke St., Norfolk.