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Women Mind the Water Podcast Series: Lisa Blanchard, Maine

As told by Lisa Blanchard
Portland, Maine

Story Narrative:

Submitted as part of the Women Mind the Water (WMW) digital stories project produced by Pam Ferris-Olson, in conjunction with Stories from Main Street and the traveling exhibition "Water/Ways." This story is one in a series created for a podcast in 2020-21, featuring regional artists whose inspiration blends conversation, activism, science, and water. Find earlier stories from the WMW initiative by searching for "Women Mind the Water" on this website.

Lisa Blanchard is a glass artist who enjoys exploring, creating and teaching the art of glass making. Her art is a visual manifestation of her love of nature and the ocean.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (00:13): (singing) The Women Mind the Water Podcast engages artists in conversation about their work and explores the connection with the ocean. Through these stories, Women Mind the Water hopes to inspire and encourage action to protect the ocean and her creatures.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (00:30): Today, I am speaking with Lisa Blanchard. Lisa's creative energies were nurtured by growing up in a creative family and living along the coast of Maine. Since she took her first glass- making class in 1984, Lisa has enjoyed exploring, creating, and teaching her craft in her Glass Mermaid Studio.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (00:51): Let me start by asking about your journey. How did you become an artist?

Lisa Blanchard (00:58): I don't generally define myself as an artist. It's not the first thing when I think of who I am as what pops to mind. I think if I had to pick a couple words that would define myself, I would define myself as curious and inquisitive and a person who creates things. I think my curiosity and my inquisitiveness are part of my art making journey.

Lisa Blanchard (01:33): How I got to where I am in a little bit of a nutshell, I'm ninth generation, Maine, same town. Growing up we made things in my family and we made things out of necessity. We didn't have a lot of money growing up. My dad was a plumber. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, typical of most of us growing up in the sixties. We made things and I continued to make things. As I grew up, I just, we made things. Over time, those homemade things became more valuable to me, more valuable than store bought items.

Lisa Blanchard (02:23): My formal schooling, I was a science and math girl always, never took an art class in school, in high school, or college. There weren't even art classes offered at the college I went to. But at some point there was this paradigm shift where I wanted to create on a larger, more professional level and wanted to learn as much as I could and become proficient at what I was working on. At the time, my starting, my interest, my favorite medium was glass. And I've since expanded to do a lot of painting and drawing, but I like to think that I combined both glass and painting in the works that I'm doing.

Lisa Blanchard (03:21): I have childhood memories of ... I guess, why I'm drawn to art and glass and painting is I have these very vivid memories of a child and growing up on the Piscataqua River. We spent a lot of time on boats. And even as a young child looking at boats, I was able to, in my own mind, decide some boats were much prettier than others. They had beautiful lines. Lines and mark-making have always been a huge part of what I see visually when I'm looking out on the world.

Lisa Blanchard (03:59): Glass is just another thing that I have a vivid memory of a child as being drawn to. I remember holding a small light blue vase that was hand-blown. It Was my grandmother's or great grandmother's at someone's house. And just being drawn to the smoothness and the softness of the glass and how pretty it was. I just thought it was so pretty. I guess that's why I started focusing on the glass. I'm drawn to how it looks and its translucent qualities.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (04:37): So tell me more about your process. How do you choose your subjects and how do you go about creating each piece?

Lisa Blanchard (04:44): The processes are very different depending on whether I'm on the torch or in the kiln or painting. So there's not one process that-

Lisa Blanchard (04:52): And I do find inspiration everywhere, whether I'm kayaking and looking down at the horseshoe crabs that are calling around underneath me, which is one of my favorite things to do in the early spring tides when we have all the horseshoe crabs coming into the cove to lay eggs. I just love kayaking and watching them. So horseshoe crabs are a favorite subject. I love to create those in glass. I haven't tried that on the [lap 00:05:23] , on my torch, but on my torch, I make lots of fish and lots of seashells. And I do seem to have a common theme of ocean, but it's not just ocean. It's kind of anything that's outside and inspires me.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (05:42): So Lisa, I'd like to hear the story behind a particular piece you've created, one that reflects on your connection with the ocean. And please, when you are discussing that piece, could you describe it for those who are listening to an audio-only version of this podcast?

Lisa Blanchard (05:58): I'd be happy to. I made a piece for the Wolf's Neck Farm Auction this summer. The focus of the auction was for artists to have made piece that reflected climate change. When I think of climate change, I think of all the effects that are happening on the ocean and go back to my first knowledge of climate change. That was reading one of Rachel Carson's books back in the sixties, The Sea Around Us.

Lisa Blanchard (06:33): So I decided to use that book as an inspiration for the piece that I made, which is quite large. It's maybe, I don't know, maybe two or three feet by three feet. It's pretty big. I made it as a collage, but I took some of Rachel Carson's quotes and incorporated that into a piece. What I found about her quotes is that they are just as timely now as they were 50, 60 years ago. They haven't really changed. And the fact that we need to be more observant to the world around us. If we all paid more attention, we'd all be more engaged in climate change happening, was basically her point in the book.

Lisa Blanchard (07:25): So on one of those pieces, I did a horseshoe crab. For that horseshoe crab piece ... The horseshoe crabs section of it's maybe 8 x 12. I found some old horseshoe crab prints, a woodblock type prints. I put those under a piece of clear glass, the actual prints. Then I sprinkled glass powder. I sift glass powder onto the clear glass and move that glass powder around so the image of the horseshoe crab that's underneath starts to appear. And then I'll fire that piece which will melt the glass powder into the glass underneath it. And then I'll do it again.

Lisa Blanchard (08:14): I'll sprinkle more powder on it and add more details and shading and things like that. I think that Rachel Carson piece that I did, there was probably 15 different firings that I did for that piece. So that means every time I wanted to make a change to something, I would have to put the piece in. Sometimes it was just different components into the kiln, but sometimes it was the whole piece. And then I'd add more detail.

Lisa Blanchard (08:43): Each firing takes between 10 and 20 hours, depending on how big, how much glass is in the kiln. The more glass that's in the kiln, the longer the firing takes. Some of the other components I did in that piece is I took transparent glass and pulled pieces in my torch and twisted them as I pulled them to make them kind of look like seaweed and added those to the pieces.

Lisa Blanchard (09:18): I have quotes from the book in that piece, actual words. On those, I've also used glass powders and moved the glass powders around with a paintbrush. It's pretty time consuming to write letters with it. I've also used some screens that I had made. There's a sandpiper in that piece.

Lisa Blanchard (09:44): Some of the other things I did for that piece, was pretty interesting. I took glass frit, which is chunks of glass that have been ground up to different consistencies. I sprinkle those chunks of frit onto a piece of glass and then add some powder between the chunks and then melt it all down. So it gives the texture of rocks. Other places I've melted different layers of glass together to get different effects. At the end, I put them all together and fire them altogether to a lower temperature where the glass just changes enough just to melt the surface so they all stick together. So they're glued together, but they're glued with heat. It was pretty time consuming process, but one I really enjoyed doing,

Pamela Ferris-Olson (10:39): So Lisa, how has your art an expression of you as a person and your view of the world?

Lisa Blanchard (10:46): Well, I'm definitely drawn to things that have beautiful lines. We talked about that earlier, boats or beautiful trees, the sweep of the ... Especially I have this pine tree in our cove that I sit and look at from my house. I'm just drawn to that. I like graphic lines and graphic shadows and I try to replicate those things in my art. Sometimes it's the color I see. Sometimes it's the shape of things that I see. And sometimes it's just that I'm inspired by something and will try to use those inspirations to create art.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (11:34): So as an artist, how do you think your work might engage people in caring about the ocean?

Lisa Blanchard (11:42): Well, I hope that people would see something. Say they saw ... For me, when I see a horseshoe crab, I go back to my house and I go, "Oh, they come in one. I didn't realize they only came in the spring to lay eggs." And then I'll do some research and try to find out more about whatever it is that I'm curious about that day. And I hope that someone might see that horseshoe crab piece and say, "Oh, I remember seeing those as a kid," and become more engaged and want to get out and see more nature or that it inspires somebody to want to create the art. Maybe not necessarily be inspired by the ocean but maybe be inspired to create art.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (12:30): How would you like others to react to and use your art?

Lisa Blanchard (12:35): I would hope that you would look at the art and first, if you're drawn to it, would recognize that there's a quality to the piece, that there has been care and time, the piece is finished well. But beyond that is some curiosity about the art. How is this art made? That you might ask yourself, "How is this art made?," or "What do I want to know about the subject matter?," or "Where is it?," or "What intrigues me? Do I want to know more about the artist or their backgrounds?" And that's what I do when I see art. I look at art and I go, "Oh, that's really interesting. I wonder how they made that," or "I wonder if I could make that." And that's what I see my art is kind of inspiring. I do like it when people smile or react positively. Of course, we all like that when that happens about anything, whether it's art or meeting your neighbor on the street. So I guess it's the same reaction I would hope for through all of that.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (13:43): Thank you, Lisa. It's been really interesting and it's been a really heartfelt discussion with you.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (13:51): I have been speaking with Lisa Blanchard for the Women Mind the Water podcast series. The series can be viewed on An audio-only version of this podcast is available on the Women Mind the Water website and on iTunes. A special thanks to Jane for The Women of the Water soundtrack. This is Pam Ferris Olson. Thank you for listening.

Asset ID: 2021.02.02
Themes: Women Mind the Water, art, artists, climate change, glass, conservation
Date recorded: January 15, 2021
Length of recording: 14:20 m
Related traveling exhibition: Water/Ways
Sponsor or affiliated organization: Women Mind the Water
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