Artist Dori Settles is drawn to textures in her work and celebrates people’s unique stories in her recreations of their footwear in her latest pâte de verre glass series. Linda Banks finds out more.
What led you to start working with glass? What glass techniques have you used and which do you prefer?
I began my art practice as a craftsperson, recycling fabric from thrift store finds into purses and other utilitarian items. During this time, my husband signed up for blacksmithing classes at a local cooperative and I found a class that focused on creating artworks with scrap fabric. Not long after, I began taking lampworking classes with another artist in the building, mainly to make glass beads and buttons for my fibre art. I dabbled in fusing on my own.
What really hooked me into glass was taking a class called Fabric of Glass with Lisa Becker (US) at our local glass shop. In the class, I cast a pair of baby overalls, but my mind started to whirr with the possibilities of combining quilting and glass. From there, I took more workshops to advance my techniques and find my ‘glass voice’. My cast work would be vastly different today if it weren’t for artist-instructors Mark Abildgaard, Evelyn Gottschall-Baker, Alicia Lomné and Carol Milne.
What is your creative approach?
I appreciate the skill and practice behind realism. When I look at objects I think, ‘How can I create this in glass?’ Sometimes – or more like rarely – I sketch. Most often, I jump in and give it a go. I get bored easily, which is why I no longer do production work. Once I’ve successfully created the glass object, I move on to something new, which could be something as simple as changing the colour, repositioning parts, or adding inclusions. At other times, it means finding a new object to challenge me.
Last year, when I started on the ‘Shoes: Storytellers of our Lives’ series, for which I set a goal of making 52 shoes, I initially cast only the uppers. I’d change colours, move laces into different positions, or add mica for different effects. I was happy to receive a variety of shoes from around the US to try to work out different styles. Then a friend gave me her favorite shoes and commented how cool the soles were. Not only did they pose a unique challenge, because they were covered in glitter, but now I needed to figure out how to create the shoe with the sole. This is the type of challenge I enjoy most. I started working out soles and glitter effect with the piles of shoes I had until I felt comfortable recreating her shoes (see main feature image).
What inspires your work? What message(s) do you want to convey through your art?
I am deeply connected to texture. One of the reasons I create most of my work using pâte de verre is because of the way the glass feels as I move my hand across it.
The other reason I work in glass, and especially pâte de verre, is because glass is like people. Glass is both resilient and vulnerable. It alternates between transparency and opacity and can be simultaneously revealing and concealing. Whether I am recreating a natural object or a man-made object, my goal is the same. I want the viewer to see and feel the details and the unique stories that the objects hold.
Do you have a career highlight?
I am excited to announce that the complete collection of Shoes: Storytellers of our Lives will be making a debut at the Waterworks Visual Art Center in North Carolina this September 2023. There will be over 55 shoes on display, some pairs, and many individual shoes. Each has its own story.
Where is your glass practice heading next?
As I conclude the creation of shoes, I am exploring the use of recycled glass with pâte de verre and transitioning my studio to an all-recycled-glass set-up as my ‘new glass’ supply dwindles.
I am also returning to teaching. Prior to 2020, I was teaching from my studio. In addition to the dealing with the pandemic, we moved from the middle of the US to the East Coast. I was planning to teach before now, but I found I needed to devote my energy and space to the shoes. This autumn I will be opening my studio to students.
What advice would you give to someone starting out on a career in glass?
Glass requires patience. Spend time understanding the fundamentals – even if you live in a remote area, there are amazing online resources, such as the Tech Tips on the Bullseye Glass website.
You have all the knowledge you need. This may seem contrary to the first bits of advice. Taking a lot of classes is a distraction from the real work. Get in the studio. Make work. And when you hit the technical brick wall, then it’s time to take a class.
Approach classes with the mindset of, ‘What do I want to learn from this class? And, why?’ For example, I am blown away by Carol Milne’s knitted glass sculptures. I had some ideas how I might use the technique (which I have not done in four years), but the number one reason I took her class was to learn how to divest such highly intricate cast pieces. I learned so much more than that!
Make good notes and take photos. The biggest mistake I’ve made over the last 12-plus years of working with glass is thinking I’d remember what I did, or that I wouldn’t return to a project. Now, when I look back at my lack of notes, I realise that I am repeating a lot of the same effort or, worse, forgetting what I learned from what worked and what didn’t work in the past.
Find your tribe. Working as an independent studio artist can be challenging, technically and spiritually. One of the most rewarding parts of my practice is a monthly Zoom call with fellow glass artists across North America. We started meeting as a virtual residency during the pandemic. We support each other’s practice, talk about goals, techniques, business concerns, provide honest critiques and even share our personal lives. These glass friends are incredibly important to me and they make my art practice, and my life, much richer.
About the artist
Dori Settles was born and grew up in southeastern Wisconsin in the US. The Arts were instilled early on, with piano lessons and children’s art classes. During high school she first encountered American Sign Language (ASL) through the movie Children of a Lesser God. She was immediately drawn to the language and studied ASL, becoming a certified sign language interpreter.
Her experience as a sign language interpreter plays a large role in her view of the world. Having worked in a variety of settings with people of differing backgrounds, including Deaf-Blind people, she finds herself paying close attention to space and the tactile aspects of the objects around her.
Today, Dori finds much of her inspiration in the forest surrounding her home and studio in North Carolina.
Main feature image: A pair of pâte de verre shoes from Dori’s latest series, entitled ‘My Ruby Slippers’.