Workhouse Artist of the Week: Ian Kessler-Gowell
Glass Blowing 'An Abstract Form of Storytelling'
"I find object making to be a very abstract form of storytelling, the building blocks of a cultural identity. Whether it the richness of ancient objects worn with use or the crispness of modern design, it is how they capture a sense of time and place that speaks without words."
Ian Kessler-Gowell says he likes to play with fire. The artist attended Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, attracted by the school's glass blowing program. "Near the end of high school I decided to pursue art instead of engineering," said Kessler-Gowell. "I focused on working with wood and glass, and got bit by the glass bug," he said.
Kessler-Gowell's March exhibit at the Workhouse Arts Center, Building W-7, features ceramic-inspired glass bowls, vases, and small glass animals, which he refers to as creatures. Some are made using the caneworking technique. "Caneworking is an Italian technique which uses rods of cane glass," said Kessler-Gowell. These glass rods contain color, and using them adds patterns and stripes to blown glass objects.
As with many artists, Kessler-Gowell can trace his interest in art to members of his family. "My mom is a weaver and my aunt a potter," he said. "I grew up going to craft shows with them," he said.
After graduating from VCU with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, Kessler-Gowell worked as assistant to Rick Sherbert in his Glassworks studio in Glen Echo, Maryland.
Kessler-Gowell then was selected as a resident artist with the EnergyXchange Craft Incubator program in Burnsville, North Carolina. According to the program's website, "The goal of the program is to help artists at the beginning of their careers further develop both their craft and business skills, leaving EnergyXchange with the “know how” and experience necessary for success on their own or in other craft studios."
The EnergyXchange studios are the first in the world to be fueled by landfill methane gas. "The infrastructure and energy costs involved with crafts like glass blowing are very expensive," Kessler-Gowell said. The free gas from the landfull fuels the furnaces in the glass studio, the pottery kiln, and an in-floor heat system to warm the studios. "It's a huge savings for the artists, and a positive use for landfill gas," said Kessler-Gowell.
He is hopeful that there will someday be funding for a pipeline from the Lorton Landfill to the Workhouse Arts Center. "A project like that takes a lot of coordination between local, county, and state entities," he said.
Following his show as Building W-7 Featured Artist at the Workhouse Arts Center, Kessler-Gowell will participate for his first time in the Smithsonian Craft Show, April 14 - 17, at the National Building Museum.