By Gina Malone
Alison Chism is one of those artists fortunate enough to be able to trace her love for what she does back to early childhood. “I have always loved fire and glass,” she says. “I was the quiet three-year-old who liked to pass her fingers through candle flames when no one was looking. I used to spend hours staring at the invisible, blue center of the flame at the wick.” She was fascinated, too, by glass and how it lets in the light and holds it. “Looking at it still fills me with happiness,” she says.
She grew up in northern California in a family that runs the gamut of creative expression. “My mother was a ballerina and currently works with fiber,” she says, “my father an author, painter and sculptor. My sister and her daughter are both artists. My maternal grandmother was also an abstract painter and sculptor.”
She found a glassblowing class at San Francisco State University and it led to other glass classes and, eventually a BA in Glass and Metal Arts and, later, a MFA from Ohio State University. Glassblowing became and still is, she says, the center of her life. As this year’s recipient of the Betty Taylor Award for Emerging Artists—funded by the Community Foundation of Henderson County and administered by the Arts Council of Henderson County—Chism has “re-dedicated and re-emerged as the glass artist I have always truly been.” These days, her ideas about life find their way into her glass pieces. “My work comes to me in the form of a vision,” she says, “a thing that must be made.” Some of her pieces are art for art’s sake; others are functional.
“Right now, I am thinking of everyday mysteries, of the long history of mankind, of the journey of knowledge from the first carvings into rocks to my tapping away on the keyboard.” Her Crystal Flame Series consist of “crystals” she makes of glass, carves with prehistoric inspired writing and drawings, then reheats and attaches to a glass blown base, which is lit. “The crystal becomes a light source and the writing undecipherable, but it is there at the base of all of our achievements.”
Other recent creations include sculptural rock bowls and “sky river” bowls. The rock bowls are also carved with ancient lines and then balanced on a lump of glass resembling a rock. “I make these bowls as a song to the rock we all come from and a tribute to the bowl itself,” Chism says. The sky river bowls are functional and inspired by North Carolina’s rivers. “These are transparent, pale blue, straight-sided bowls resting on glass made to look like river rocks, some of them with blue sky in the rock itself.”
Her greatest influences, Chism says, have been her family, other glass artists and her own ontological quest. “I began my career by wanting to make something new, figurative and expressive of the joy of being alive. Now, I think about how we came to be and how many of us form these patterns of understanding and distraction and the vast sea of time that it has taken for us to be who we are. The work is still a celebration, but one with deeper understanding.”
Find Chism and her work at Riverview Station, 191 Lyman Street, #291, in the River Arts District. She is also represented at The Gallery at Flat Rock, where an exhibition of her work, Meaning and Object: Life in Glass, will be on display from October 18–28 with an opening reception Thursday, October 18, from 5–7 p.m. and an Artist’s Talk on Thursday, October 25, at 5:30 p.m. The Gallery at Flat Rock is located at 2702-A Greenville Highway in Flat Rock. To learn more, visit chismglass.com.To learn more about Chism’s work, visit chismglass.com.