Hendersonville glass artist settled on a colorful future
When Craig Sheehan was growing up, just outside of Boston, making art seemed almost predestined. “My Dad is a great woodworker,” the Hendersonville glass artist says. “My brother Todd has turned into an amazing painter and does a lot of abstract painting. A winery out in Napa Valley has used his stuff on three or four of their labels now.”
But his own path took several twists and turns before he started working with glass — a found vocation that’s produced a striking collection of fused-glass bowls, plates, and wall hangings that are lush in color and subtly play with light. “When I was a kid, I took oil-painting lessons for a while but never stuck with it,” Sheehan says. Watercolor also proved a challenge.
He worked as a beekeeper in North Africa with the Peace Corps, but the artistic application of beeswax and honey proved elusive. Bonsai had a longer shelf life when Sheehan was living in Seattle; he maintained a dozen trees in various stages of development on his outdoor deck there. “I love Bonsai, but it can take years to develop a tree,” he explains. “It’s long on patience and short on gratification.” After several years nurturing his trees, he moved back to Boston and gave almost all of them away to friends. “I still keep a tree on the window sill here, though,” he adds.
Sheehan weathered a personal “creative desert,” as he describes it, in Boston, until he came across a YouTube video posted by a group of lampworkers — glassworkers who shape glass with torch and flame. He was fascinated.
“I really wanted to try it, but I lived on the second floor of a house built in the late 1800s, which is fairly common in New England, and I’m pretty certain my landlord wouldn’t have been too pleased with me firing up a torch and melting glass on my kitchen table.”
But eight years ago, when Sheehan moved to Hendersonville, where his parents had retired, nearby Asheville and its nationally famous glassmaking community beckoned. After learning the basics at the NC Glass Center in the River Arts District, his creative desert suddenly blossomed. “When I bent my first rod of glass in the open-flame torch, I was hooked,” he says. “I loved the way glass changes in different light, the way you can look inside glass, the mystery of the material. People still debate whether it’s a liquid or a solid.”
More was to come, when Sheehan began experimenting with fusing layers of glass in a kiln, rather than firing and shaping a rod of glass with an open flame. Fusing allowed him to make larger pieces, like the bowls and plates for which he’s now known. Once layers of colored glass are fused in a kiln heated to 1,500 degrees and then cooled, Sheehan reheats it for “slumping” — placing the sheet over a mold in the kiln where it melts to assume the mold’s shape.
“I just kept experimenting with different colored glass and different size molds,” Sheehan says, remembering early attempts. “I sort of stumbled around for a few years, failed many times, broke a lot of glass, and made a lot of ugly things.” But the failures were lessons, leading to Sheehan’s sinuous pieces colored with an artist’s eye.
As any glassworker knows, the medium is notoriously fickle, a trait that underscores the delicacy and beauty of the final product. “Heat or cool it too fast in the kiln and it breaks,” he says. “Mix the wrong kinds of glass together, and it breaks. Open the kiln too soon, it thermal shocks and breaks. Sometimes seams and cuts of glass leave gaps during firing, or colors don’t blend like you thought they would after fusing. So many things can go wrong.”
But Sheehan is an avid student who’s refined his craft, studying with well-respected glass artists including Richard Parrish — “he taught me how to combine colors and how to layer glass … next-level stuff” — and with Tanya Veit, who’s known for her work incorporating enamels and clay-based paints in her glass. Sheehan’s most popular fused pieces have a woven look produced with hundreds of thin glass rods and up to two dozen different colors, a technique he learned from Parrish.
“Glass is an amazing material,” says Sheehan. “It can’t be rushed, so it teaches you patience. And there will be many failures, so it teaches you how to deal with heartbreak.
“But when everything comes together just right, that’s where the joy comes in.”
Craig Sheehan, Hendersonville, haywoodfallsglass.com. Sheehan’s fused-glass art is for sale at Carolina Mountain Artists Guild (444 North Main St., Hendersonville, 828-696-0707, carolinamountainartists.com).
Good Stuff cousin. We are approaching a period of enlightenment early this coming year. Let’s roll….