By Gina Malone
Amber Marshall did not set out to become an artist. She was, in fact, on a very different path when freshman level art classes in college “snowballed into more art classes. I can’t say that my parents were excited about my choice,” she says. “I unexpectedly switched my major from sociology to art in my junior year.”
During this artistic awakening, she found glassblowing. “I get in trouble from friends for being self-deprecating, but I’m going to say this anyway. I’m not a naturally gifted glassblower. It’s hard work for me. It’s incredibly challenging.”
Marshall and her partner, Mike Hayes, also a glassblower, now rent a studio in Bakersville. She often finds herself speaking in third-person rather than first when she speaks about her art. “Glassblowing is a team activity,” she says. “Mike is a huge component in the success of my work. We have a tag team style of working, knowing the process and each other’s roles so well. We each have separate bodies of work that are completely different aesthetic styles, but we are often consulting each other about new directions and design decisions.”
The two met 14 years ago at a public access glassblowing studio in St. Louis, MO, about 25 minutes from Collinsville, IL, where Marshall grew up. “Third Degree Glass Factory had just opened,” she says. “Mike had helped build the equipment in exchange for studio hours. I was just a few years out of school and looking for a place to make glass. Glass studios are extremely expensive to set up and that just was not an option for me, so I was really lucky to be in a city that had a public access studio.”
Marshall exchanged cleaning time—and later, teaching hours—at the studio in exchange for glassblowing time in the hot shop. “I got to meet a lot of wonderful people, had plenty of fun and, most importantly, it afforded me the opportunity to blow glass.”
When she became burnt out on teaching, she took a residency at the EnergyXchange, making the move to Burnsville. “The residency was billed as a business incubator for artists,” she says. “I would pay rent to share a fully-equipped glass studio with another artist. The equipment was fired by landfill gas from the old Yancey County landfill so the fuel expense was free which is huge.”
Although her residency was cut short when the organization ran into financial difficulties (it is now the Mayland Earth to Sky Park), she credits the time she did have at EnergyXchange with giving her the life she has today. “The residency was a huge transition into a new way of life. It was difficult—physically, financially and emotionally—but I’m so happy I leapt into it. That residency is the reason we now live in this beautiful place with a rich community of artists.”
Working as a glass assistant years ago planted the seed of desire in her to market and sell her own work. She now sells her pieces traveling and exhibiting at art fairs and festivals around the country. “It just made sense selling work and keeping the full retail value, versus splitting with a gallery,” she says. Besides the Bakersville studio, which she opens by appointment, her work may also be seen at Ariel Gallery in downtown Asheville. The Bakersville Studio is a designated stop (#90 on the tour map) on the Toe River Arts Council’s Holiday Studio Tour Friday, December 1, to Sunday, December 3. “It’s a lovely drive out to the studio,” Marshall says, and invites tour participants to stop by to see her creations.
As for her parents who worried that she was giving up a secure, well-paying job for the uncertainties of an art career: “That’s all changed,” Marshall says, “and they are very happy for me, my mom being one of my biggest cheerleaders. I’m lucky that they have always been incredibly generous with me and that they would never let me fall into the ‘starving artist’ category.”
Ariel Gallery is located at 19 Biltmore Avenue in downtown Asheville. Amber Marshall’s studio is located in Bakersville. Hours are by appointment. To see her work and find contact information, visit ambermarshallglass.com. Follow her on Instagram at amberjmarshall1.