Even if Suzanne Merkl wanted to make the same piece of jewelry twice, she couldn’t. The glass and the kiln have just as much to say about the finished piece as Merkl does, and often what they say is “try something new.”
Those happy accidents are sometimes hard for a Type A artist to accept, Merkl said, but she’s learning to find the beauty in interrupted patterns and unexpected effects.
You can see for yourself when she brings her fused dichroic glass jewelry to Art Fair on the Green on July 28-29 at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
For years, Merkl worked with stained glass, but when she went looking for something beyond panels of glass soldered together, she discovered dichroic, a glass that has one transmitted color and a completely different reflected color, as certain wavelengths of light either pass through or are reflected. This causes an array of colors to be displayed. The colors shift depending on the angle of view.
They also change depending on how the artist layers the glass.
Ever the experimenter, Merkl began manipulating the glass, experimenting with colors, patterns, and even adding scrap glass filings to melted glass. Then back in the kiln the pieces go to be melted into something resembling what Merkl imagined.
She can manipulate the end result by flash cooling — opening the kiln at the full temperature of 1,500 degrees so it cools quickly — or she can cool in the more conventional manner by turning off the kiln and letting pieces cool slowly. The best time to flash cool is on a sub-zero day, she said, because the heat rises and augments the heating system in the house. She has a deal with her husband not to do that when the central air is running, though, as it cancels out the cooling effect of the AC.
As she layers and experiments, Merkl keeps a notepad of the glass recipes she’s cooking up so she can repeat the effects. “It’s like a recipe book,” she said, only this one has instructions on how to make swirly blue and black pendants or how to cut shapes into glass.
Because her materials are expensive, Merkl is probably the best recycler in all of La Crescent. Scrap glass gets melted and reused, and even the glass shavings are saved.
“At $300 a square foot, you don’t waste any of it,” she said.
As an artist who wants to keep learning and growing, dichroic fused glass is the perfect medium for Merkl.
“There’s always new things to try.”
Merkl sells her pieces for $15 to $75. What customers are buying, she said, besides a unique piece of jewelry, “is the practice, the research, the trials. I do not have even a 50 percent success rate with what I try. But what I bring to the shows are all successes.”
She sells almost exclusively at shows such as Art Fair on the Green because she wants to meet the people who will be wearing her jewelry.
“I want to see who is walking off with my children,” she said with a laugh. “One of my pieces got to go to Obama’s inaugural ball.”