Issues

Artist Kathleen Mulcahy: Strength of Glass Reminiscent of Women

Posted by: Andrea Hammer

According to artist Kathleen Mulcahy, glass has a crushing strength of 10,000 pounds per square inch.

“Glass is an extraordinarily beautiful material. By its nature, it is considered to be super cooled liquid. In fact, it’s molecules never reach their lowest energy state, whereby they achieve a crystalline network. So glass has an amorphous structure. It’s fluid, like water. That is where the transparency comes from. I like working within that realm,” she says.

“It appeals to me because I can work with the glass, responding to its fluid nature, it’s beauty, its transparency yet it is amazingly strong with a crushing strength higher than most materials. One might say that about women.”

Mulcahy, who developed the Pittsburgh Glass Center with her late husband and artist Ron Desmett, was the first woman to run a major glass art studio program in the country. She benefited from his great advice, council and support tackling the hurdles.

“Through the years, I have found great support on both sides–being lucky enough to find men who are confident enough in their own realm not to be threatened by a woman is truly a gift. But it shouldn’t be. We haven’t come far enough to have complete respect across the aisles. Have we? It takes time to read the waters and feel the acknowledgment of those you seek support from,” she says. “My advice: lean forward, keep going, take care of yourself and share your joy!”

Based on some of her experiences, she understands the challenges that women have faced in the professional arena.

“I believed I could do it, and I did. But it was no easy task. I really don’t understand when someone talks about the politics of a situation. I am not a political person. Yet by being a woman, one is thrust into a political situation. The personal becomes political,” she says.

“Someone said a well-behaved woman is seldom remarkable. I am probably too direct, and I am extremely focused with a sharp attention to detail. One board member said of both my husband and I that we didn’t know first gear. That is a fine description. I like it. It’s true!”

Some reviewers have described Mulcahy’s work as reminiscent of the female body. The artist etches the surface of glass to imitate the sense of skin. She often uses vertical forms, speaking for themselves in the nonverbal realm of communication.

When Mulcahy faces a challenge in her work, she simply gets up every morning with a plan and tries to move forward every day.

“If you hit a road block, go around it or over it. Don’t let anything get in your way. Surround yourself with friends who are supportive. Create your network and keep in contact. Share your work as often as you can with others,” she suggests.

Sometimes, dreams provide the artist with solutions and inspiration. For example, one began Mulcahy’s series of spinning forms after she dreamt that a child ran to the edge of a field just as a tornado was approaching. The beautiful but ominous form stayed beyond the field and just kept whirling.

“I thought about that form and began a tornado series that lead to spinning tops made of glass around 1990. Then, I infused them with color that I twisted to make the colors move internally. I like that series. It brought back childhood memories of my dad and mom’s toy store. I like the reverie of the toy,” she says.

Mulcahy, who loves walking in an old growth forest, also finds the reflections and tones in any body of water brilliant.

“I think nature from the smallest cell to the Milky Way and back are so fascinating. How did all this come to be? Why are we standing here at this moment? What does all of this mean? How can I make a contribution to the world? How can I make a change that affects my environment for the better? These thoughts… I ponder often.”

Ultimately, Mulcahy hopes that viewers and other artists feel a “strong sympathetic bond” to her work.

“I want my work to move people. I want them to experience a flow within their being as I do in mine as I create this work,” she says.

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