Paula Radke has been working non-stop in the glass industry for more than three decades. She began her career in a glass blowing studio in the 1980’s, where she assisted glassblowers as a punty girl. She explains, “When a blower needs to finish the piece it generally needs to be transferred to another pipe and I brought a dab of hot glass (a punty) on a new solid pipe to the glass blower to accomplish that.” She says that sometimes the blown piece would break before making it to the annealing oven, so she would take the broken pieces, grind them, then hand polish them to produce earrings and pendants.
One day, she remembers, another worker asked why she didn’t just fire-polish the pieces in Paula Radke PIONEERING ArtGlass Clay Artisan Jewelry Times Artisan Jewelry Times Copyright 2015 All rights reserved 4 August 2015 the kiln. Vividly remembering that light bulb moment, “I became enamored with melting glass in a kiln. In 1984, I left the blowing studio and started Paula Radke Art Glass. I made two stained glass windows before I realized that instead of contaminating myself with lead solder, I could melt the pieces together in my kiln.”
Paula began fusing small jewelry pieces, but wanted to learn more. Her passion took precedence over formal education. At the time, there was no place to get an education in glass fusing except Camp Colton. Camp Colton was an old church camp in Oregon started by Boyce Lundstrom, co-founder of Bullseye Glass Company. Boyce decided to take on the task of teaching people how to fuse glass. Paula remembers fondly, “Boyce’s wife Kathy was a master chef and prepared three incredible meals every day for us. It was a religious experience. Boyce had us making glass in the chapel. The two-week sessions were amazing.” On her second trip to Camp Colton, Paula asked Boyce how to make glass beads. He gave her some glass and a torch and told her, “Just do it.” And she did. The very next session at Camp Colton included beadmaking. Out of the participants of that camp session, the International Society of Glass Beadmakers was formed.
Paula has been setting her own course ever since, “I enjoy doing something no one else is doing. When I first started making dichroic beads, my peers would shake their heads and tell me that I can’t make beads that way. This made me smile because I was making beads that way and I still am. Their experience was that the dichroic was too sensitive in a torch and would burn off. I will admit I believe I was gifted by God with the right torch and the right glass with Mercury in retrograde!” Success in the bead business brought her accounts such as Michael’s Arts and Crafts stores, Hobby Lobby, AC Moore, and Rio Grande. She continues to supply her handmade dichroic lampwork beads to Artbeads.com, Fire Mountain Gems, and many jewelry designer around the world.
Dichroic glass is an unusual and beautiful material. It is made using high tech vacuum chambers and deposition of certain metals on to the glass. Electron beams are used to vaporize the metals so that they rise and grow as crystals on the surface of the glass which is suspended above the crucible in the vacuum chamber. This process creates a layer of metallic color which acts like a filter to reflect one color and transmit a different color. “This material combined with light is magic,” says Paula.
Her adventure continues today as she forges new roads with ArtGlass Clay. ArtGlass Clay is finely ground glass with added non-toxic binding agents that when combined, will create a clay-like material that is 99.9% pure glass. During firing, the binding agent burns off and you have pure glass. She says glass clay was used by the Egyptians more than 2000 years ago, but “I developed a readymade product so that the artist can start working on creativity instead of chemistry. ArtGlass Clay makes some techniques used in fusing, faster and easier while yielding the same great results.” Recently, Paula was given a sample of Dichroic Extract from the manufacturers at Coatings by Sandburg in Orange California to try. Already happy being able to shape glass with her bare hands using her ArtGlass Clay, Paula was now ecstatic that she could apply different colors of dichroic coating to her ArtGlass Clay work. Smiling, she says “I now have control over my favorite processes in glass.”
Paula uses her website at PaulaRadke.com as a place to purchase her ArtGlass Clay and dichroic beads. Her other website, ArtGlassClay.com is used for tutorials and other product information. Her products are also available on Amazon.com.
Paula loves teaching ArtGlass Clay techniques. And she says “I love teaching and learn so much from my students who can look at the material with fresh, naïve eyes and show me things I haven’t thought of before.”
Paula also enjoys collaborating. She just met a third generation Cherokee woman, Leona “Woman who weaves baskets” Nelson, this spring and the two of them have worked together to make pine needle baskets with ArtGlass Clay accents. “I showed her how to make ArtGlass Clay and she taught me how to make pine needle baskets using the traditional Cherokee methods.” Paula reports.
Paula wants the new artists to know that glass can be an expensive hobby or career. She has some advice for the new young artists of today, “Price your work with respect for yourself. Make sure you are charging enough so that you can sell to a gallery at 50% off. Pricing is an art. Many of us don’t charge enough for our time. You have to consider cost of materials, shipping, the cost of marketing and packaging your work, rent and utilities on a place to work and store your supplies as well as a salary for yourself.”
To date, most of Paula’s work has been creating jewelry pieces and manufacturing dichroic glass beads for the jewelry industry. She is currently engaged in developing larger art pieces. Paula’s inspiration comes from the material itself and developing new ways to make glass do what she wants it to do. She feels as though, “Jewelry has been a great canvas by which I could experiment with technique and it’s time to work larger.”
Future plans include certifying teachers in the techniques she has discovered using ArtGlass Clay so that more people will be exposed to this exciting new product and ways of working with glass. Paula explains, “I would love to introduce our young people to fused glass art starting with the clay. All my students have great success from taking one class. There is no fear of shape edges, spikey shards of glass on the floor or burning yourself.”