In Ann Cavanaugh’s art studio, tucked into the woods just north of Battle Ground, luminous planes of glass glow with rich layers of texture and color. The impressionistic landscapes she is known for sharing space with various explorations of the medium — abstract designs, simple etched faces and glass castings.
Cavanaugh began working with glass during her 33-year career as an educational administrator. She started crafting stained glass during the 1980s, and sold commissioned pieces and taught classes in the technique.
About 14 years ago she enrolled in a class in glass fusing, and it changed the course of her artistic journey.
“I totally fell in love with it,” said Cavanaugh.
Today, Cavanaugh’s fused glass artwork is sold in galleries from Carmel, California, to Sisters, Oregon, and close to home at the Aurora gallery in downtown Vancouver. Since her retirement six years ago, she has been a full-time working artist.
She seems a little astonished at where her work has taken her.
“My plan was to be a paleontologist,” she said with a laugh, and she began college studying geology in Colorado.
Along the way, she enrolled in a service project at a school for deaf and blind students.
“They were the most courageous, amazing individuals,” she said.
She changed her major to special education, and spent her career creating lessons and curriculum for students in special education, gifted programs, and Title I programs. And coming home to make art with glass.
Fused glass is glass that has been fired at high temperatures in a kiln, so that the pieces of glass melt together. Sheets of marbled glass and jugs of coarse glass granules called frit line the walls of Cavanaugh’s studio.
A tile-lined room at the back of the studio is like a giant shower, impervious to the water used in polishing and cutting glass. A wood-fired stove hunkers in one corner, and a large kiln warms the studio while glass is firing. Bins hold scraps of fused glass, collected and later re-fired to create colorful “cabochons,” which are popular with jewelry artists and tile workers.
“I try to use every piece,” said Cavanaugh. “Glass is recyclable.”
Despite the best efforts, there is some magic in the final project that is beyond the artist’s control, said Cavanaugh.
“When you get it in the kiln, you’re letting the kiln goddess take over and do her thing,” she said.
Cavanaugh continues to work with the loosely drawn landscape images which started her glass fusing work.
“That is what I’ve done for many years, and that’s what people expect from me,” she said.
But she has branched out to use new techniques and styles as well. Some pieces are more abstract and explore color and texture. They are created using multiple firings at lower temperatures, which allows for finer control of the medium. Within one piece, surfaces can be simultaneously dull, textured, or shiny.
“That’s really a departure for me,” said Cavanaugh. “I’ve learned the kiln as a tool. How can I get the texture I want?”
She is also using sandblasting to create glass with a uniformly matte surface. This work is more opaque than earlier pieces, which creates a challenge of its own.
“Glass doesn’t have to always be transparent, and it doesn’t have to always be shiny,” said Cavanaugh. “I’m trying to find the perfect opacity where light comes through but it’s not a reflective surface.”
Bas relief pieces explore texture, and were inspired by rocks at the beach.
Standing apart from Cavanaugh’s other work is a series of loosely drawn faces, etched away from layers of surface frit.
“I was just playing with stuff, brushing it on, using water, using a heat gun. I’m not a drawer, I don’t draw. And I saw they looked like a face,” she said.
Three-dimensional pieces include glass vases which are fused as sheets in the studio and delivered to a glass blower to roll and form into gently curving vessels. Large sheets of glass are melted over a form to create shallow birdbaths or platters.
“I’ve had the luxury of just playing with glass,” said Cavanaugh. “Of not having to follow rules, and learning ways that work for me. I’m still learning.”
Classes in the studio are a satisfying compliment to her own work.
“I see it as a way to educate, and also a way to give back,” she said. “People come and have the experience of working in a different environment, with different media, and making something beautiful. Sometimes it changed the direction of their life.”
Cavanaugh moved to her Battle Ground acreage 20 years ago, when she was looking for a home equidistant between her job in Longview, and her husband’s work in Troutdale, Oregon. A friend drove her down the secluded lane near Battle Ground and said, “You could live here.” When it came time to buy a home, that first place she saw was the one she bought, she said with a laugh.
Now 68 and embracing her second career as an artist, Cavanaugh keeps busy with creating her fused glass work, participating in art shows, and teaching glass fusing classes in her studio. A chocolate-colored Labrador Retriever-mix puppy is her constant studio companion.
Being a full-time working artist is “totally surprising,” said Cavanaugh. “Sometimes it’s not comfortable. It’s hard because it’s so personal. You have to get used to people really having a peek into your soul.”
Cavanaugh sees herself continuing to create and explore the medium of glass.
“I want to always be pushing the limits of what I can do, pushing boundaries. I like change and I don’t like to be stuck,” she said.