Tuesday, October 22, 2013

SOFA approaches

SOFA, Sculptural Objects and Functional Art, is coming up the first weekend in November. SOFA Chicago is an international show for galleries to exhibit the works of their artists to a huge crowd over a three day period. There are actually three SOFA shows; New York, Chicago, and Santa Fe; but the SOFA Chicago is the biggest.

We were lucky enough to be picked up by a gallery that does the SOFA shows and in fact had our work shown there for three years; 2006, 2007, 2008. It was an exhilarating and demoralizing experience all at the same time.

The level and quality of work there, that the big guns in the art world; artists, galleries, and collectors; are there is intimidating. Our first year, the biggest question on my mind was how the hell did we get in here though everyone assured us that our work was definitely worthy.

The first year we didn't sell anything. Not unusual they told me. Collectors want to see how your work wears over time. Your third year is when things take off, they told me. The second year, we sold one piece.

The third year, 2008 (which started out really good for us with our one person show at our local gallery), is the year the bottom dropped out of Lehman Brothers, with the stock market following soon after, just a few weeks before the SOFA Chicago show. Needless to say, it was a fairly dismal show for everyone and a lot of the galleries lost money.

Also needless to say, we did not get our third year bump though we did sell two very nice pieces in the following couple of months to collectors who had seen the work at the show.

I was demoralized. The gallery that had been showing our work at SOFA basically dropped us like a hot potato, stopped taking our work to the various shows around the country, which I understand. They had to scale back and focus on artists who were known sellers. And while it was not the only gallery that was showing our work, it was the only one that does SOFA and the other shows.

The economic climate that persisted for the next several years was not conducive to the sale of art. Galleries closed, some artists quit trying to make it, many artists fell back on teaching at the studios that brought in guest teachers.

We were fortunate to have three very good commission jobs in the latter half of 2008 through early 2010, work that had been funded before the crash, so I didn't have a lot of time left over to work on the pate de verre and it was just as well, as I had no interest.

And it hadn't been fun for a while, it had got us in some serious debt. Once I had decided to get in the galleries and aspire to the shows and collectors instead of doing it for my own enjoyment, I was having to work on it all the time and get the work out there, applying to all sorts of exhibitions, going to the conventions. And once in the shows, they weren't good for me. It was emotional turmoil, and like I said, demoralizing.

It was two years before I actually got in the studio again after 2008 and started to play around. I had to let go of the desire to be discovered by the galleries and sought by the collectors. I had tried, gone into the studio several times, standing in front of my model making tools thinking I should probably do something before I just turned around and walked out again.

It was a long process for me. Letting go of that desire. I had chosen at the very beginning to do commission work and I had made my living at that all my life. Now it was just too late, I think, to switch. Too late to start over.

And I also realize now, that there is no way to make a living on this obscure, difficult, time consuming, and detail oriented technique unless your work sells for stratospheric prices. I don't want to do production work therefore every piece is one of a kind and they take a long time to make. But I'm having fun with it again. I have one gallery willing to take the few pieces I make.

But that's OK. When the commission work allows, I work on the cast glass and I'm usually content with that. Except for this time of year, with the SOFA show approaching.

This time of year, I still yearn. This time of year I sometimes feel like I failed. I got my foot in the door but didn't have what it takes to stay in the room. 


  1. well, the work you just shared here just blows my mind. but i can certainly see where art took a back seat to everything else these last few years - even falling out of the trunk completely. i don't think you should be disheartened, as it, no doubt, happened to SOOO very many...

  2. Your work is nothing short of miraculously beautiful.
    And I know exactly what you mean in your last sentence.

  3. A succinct review of one of a kind art in a mass produced world. Even with a market, then there is all the reinvention of self to satisfy a few buyers. "Oh, yes, my cast glass artist made these pieces." I believe only one in a million bursts out of the top. Well, maybe one in a hundred thousand. It's not for want of talent.

  4. Your work is beautiful. I wish I could buy all of it.

    To be an artist trying to make a living in that field - it has to be bloody nerve-wracking!

  5. I think your art is fabulous! And Joanne is right - it's just so very competitive. I don't even think talent has that much to do with that kind of success - it's all luck.

  6. Too many times we don't get immediate recognition. A friend had a piece in a permanent collection at a city gallery and final made it in the main gallery, 3 years after her passing.

  7. "...didn't have what it takes to stay in the room". Well , now, simply stated, horse shit, if you are talking quality of work. Ellen, you and Marc consistently produce quality work.

    If you are talking thick skin and pure gumption, well, that can be cultivated - especially if you come from the Texas.

    I plan to walk around SOFA this year, and severely hungover sleep-deprived. That's the plan anyway.

  8. I hear your heart......I am in this same place. To let go is so hard!!
    I have tried...and right now I have walked away from my studio work. My focus is photography...abstract photos...not to sell; but to work.
    I hug you dear friend.

  9. When I started following your blog, I was amazed at your talent and the fact that you were able to follow your dream to create beautiful glass as a living. And so far, from what I've read, you have accomplished much more than some can only dream about. With that said, you aren't dead yet, so you can still pursue your next dream and keep at it until you accomplish it.

  10. I can understand feeling disheartened but oh my goodness, Ellen... your work is so stunning. I think you're an amazing talent.

  11. The intersection between art and commerce seems like it's ALWAYS painful for artists. It's so seldom that people who produce art for the enjoyment are then able to leap that hurdle into the business world -- because that's a whole different kind of art-making, isn't it? This is one of the reasons why I've never advanced with my photography to a gallery-show level (assuming any of it is gallery-worthy, which is probably a big assumption) -- I am just no good at the business and promotion. It is so uninteresting to me. All I want to do is take pictures.


I opened my big mouth, now it's your turn.