Annie Shepherd's love of landscapes and experience with cross-country moves serve as inspiration for the playful pieces she makes in the UrbanGlass studio. She sat down with us to talk about the influence of her environment on her art practice.
Could you start by describing your background in glass?
I saw glassblowing on a field trip [in high school], then later had an assignment to shadow someone in the field I was interested in pursuing. I reached out to a glass maker at a local college, spent a day there, and was like woah. That definitely cemented my desire to go to a school that offered glass; I wanted that to be an option available to me. I started at a college in Nebraska [where I grew up], Hastings College, and then I ended up transferring halfway through and finished my degree at Alfred University.
It’s been almost five years now that I’ve lived here [in Brooklyn]. During that time I've also worked as one of the contract glassblowers for Corning, and did the cruise ship a couple times, which was a really interesting opportunity. It was like my work-cation. [Laughs.] I currently freelance full-time, whether that’s fabricating for artists, assisting, being part of a production team, or teaching... 100% of my working time is in glass, which I feel very fortunate about.
I’ve been trying to think about this myself recently, like what's the work's origin story, why maps? They've been present in my work since I was in school. I think a lot of it began with moving, and trying to figure out location and "belonging." Like, thinking about how just because you’re in a specific physical place, does that make it your home?
A map in itself gives you a lot of information about a location, and absolutely nothing at the same time. I listened to a podcast about mapping, and [the host] described this map they created of all of the pumpkins in their neighborhood during Halloween, which I thought was really interesting.
Speaking of which, how do you choose the locations that you spotlight in your jewelry collection?
A lot of them are places that are special to me, or are visually attractive to me because of their linework. I definitely am drawn to those “sacred green spaces” that exist in Brooklyn and New York in general. Like the piece I made for Jewelry Week last fall was a two-piece combo of Prospect Park and the Botanic Gardens. It’s this kind of urban oasis for me.
Does your more sculptural work also tie into these ideas of place/belonging?
Yeah! I might see this hilly landscape and think, how can I playfully bring that into glass without being super literal? Like the Land Lump vases [at UrbanGlass|ware]. Each one is a funky little rolling landscape. I had a lot of fun with those in particular!
Living in New York, and being in more of an urban landscape, we’re surrounded by buildings and sharp edges and windows and things like that. Those sort of influences, the things we’re surrounded by all the time, have definitely crept into my work. I'll take photos of buildings with those overlapping shapes and then bring that into the hot shop and sketch it out as a basis for some of my forms. It probably doesn’t read very literally, but it’s those eclipsing shapes that bleed into my form-making.
Oh, I'll have to revisit some of your work with that in mind! Do you notice any other major influences that shape your glassmaking?
Well, my list of influential artists is never-ending. Nancy Callan's amazing for her work with pattern and line, I’ve had the opportunity to take a class with her before. Ethan Stern was a visiting instructor at UrbanGlass last year, and he helped make a lot of things click for me. I really admire him as an artist, as well as his process and the work that he makes.
So in addition to taking classes with other artists, you teach as well. Do you find the switch between the role of student vs. teacher affect how you think about glass?
Absolutely. I think that it’s the biggest treat to be a student. Oh man, that’s the best, when you can be in a class and focus on and advance your own practice. And through teaching, having to explain the process to others makes you realize why you do things, and how you do things, and recognize those little bits of efficiency you’ve picked up along the way. I enjoy teaching and getting to pass on what I’ve learned from other people over the years to the next wave of glass makers.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.