Okay, artist statements are not my thing. Either the work works, or it doesn't. Right?
Well, not quite. I attended a meeting of the Ann Arbor Fiberarts Guild (a group I recommend highly, but which, unfortunately, doesn't have a website) and in addition to a well-run showNtell, extensive Q&A about upcoming group shows, they had a panel discussion which covered marketing your work via art fairs, galleries, commission (i.e. wall installations—this group has a lot of weavers in it), and, finally, putting together a promo package.
I know a lot of this stuff already, even if I don't do much of it. However, I was reminded that I'd promised a shop a little artist's bio for their newsletter, and find I occasionally need something for this show or that application. And I figured it might be fun to skewer some of the conventions.
But, you wonder, why do the shops and galleries and shows want artist's bios? Well, for the same reason customers want to talk to the artist before they whip out their checkbooks: if indeed the work is a piece of the maker, they want access, and on multiple levels. They want a story —And, much as I might disdain the average artist statement, I do like stories, at least enough to write them now and again for the APA to which I belong. And I was on the art fair circuit long enough to develop some kind of patter. Thus, it would be disingenuous to claim that I'm totally opposed to telling you about myself—after all, this website is one huge artistic self-portrait, so it's pretty hopeless, at this point, to claim no ego. The best hope is to disguise it, at least somewhat.
Most recent version
A founding member of both the GLBG and glassact, Sylvus Tarn has been messing around with beads in one form or another for most of her life—weaving them, embroidering them, stringing them, and making them out of glass. If there is a theme running throughout her peripatetic explorations, it is documenting the fascinating tension between bead as individual object and as component of a larger whole, particularly as it affects the interplay of color and texture.
for page and sylvus, written for the 2006 ann arbor state street area fair. It originally appeared 19jul06:
Page Brunner and Sylvus Tarn met over a quarter of a century ago, and have been inspiring each other ever since. A love of beads led them to unite their talents in jewelry and a love of color to feature hollow lampwork beads.
Page's engineering background is reflected in her precision of design and a delight the sparkle of motion brings to her pieces; Sylvus’ textile experiences reveal themselves in the texture of both beads and stringing.
Both artists find glass beadmaking (lampwork) enticing for its emphasis on color. Their metalworking backgrounds have recently led them to add PMC beads to the mix in jewelry they strive to make beautiful, wearable and durable.
Let's start with the shortest, and, one hopes, least painful version (sylvus only):
Sylvus Tarn managed to extract a BFA with a concentration in life drawing and a minor in art history from Eastern Michigan University. Though the artist's primary interest has shifted to making glass beads, especially mandrel wound hollow beads, Tarn still manages to sneak in stringing time.
Slightly longer (and considerably older):
Sylvus Tarn managed to extract a BFA with a minor in Art History from Eastern Michigan University with a primary concentration in life drawing and a secondary concentration in water-based painting. Since then, Tarn has taken additional coursework from Center for the Creative Studies, Wayne State University, Schoolcraft College, Henry Ford Community College, Washtenaw Community College, and UofM Dearborn, plus numerous workshops over the years, thereby confirming the family tendancy towards professional student-ism.
Tarn isn't quite certain how she ended up in beads, though that Indian beaded belt of her mother's that she picked apart when she was three, as well as science fiction conventions, appear to have something to do with it. Her hopes that making beads would be cheaper and require less space than stringing and collecting them has not been fulfilled.
I like the humor, even though it's probably not good from a professional point of view, because it doesn't emphasize my professional achievements enough. But I created it shortly after I started making beads, so my ego wasn't as inflated then. It's had some time to expand, over really some not that exciting achievements:
Sylvus Tarn's interest in beads dates back to early childhood, when she picked at her mother's Indian beaded belt to get colors not available at the local craft shop. Ignorance of good bead sources prevailed, however, and Tarn turned to other media, managing to extract a BFA from Eastern Michigan University with a concentration in life drawing and minor in art history in the interim. Tarn then decided it was so much fun she proceeded to enrich most of the colleges in the Wayne-Washtenaw area with additional coursework.
A chance enounter at a science fiction convention, however, led to a job at a semi-precious stone bead importer; a couple of years later, Tarn started Rejiquar Works to sell her beadstrung jewelry, marketing it at local area craft shows and art fairs. During this time, the artist experimented with a number of related techniques, incorporating scrimshaw, metalwork and kumihimo (braiding), as well as off-loom beadweaving and even tapestry needleweaving, in her work.
After her second child was born, Tarn took a hiatus from the art fair circuit; chance, in the form of free lampworking lessons, inspired her to try her hand at glass beadmaking. Being a slow learner, Tarn did not learn all she needed to know at the free lessons, and after paying to take more lessons (and whining over the cost of setting up yet another studio) she finally started making some really terrifically ugly beads.
Well-known local glass beadmaker Donald Schneider provided a direction for this new medium, mostly by explaining what he didn't like about it: the line (made by the hole) that shows through solid, transparent beads. Tarn thus spent about a year learning how to hollow beads, specifically mandrel wound hollow beads, which avoid this problem. 5000 or so beads later she more or less got the hang of it, and in 1992 was commissioned by the Great Lakes Beadworkers’ Guild to make their 10 year anniversary commemorative bead—300 of them, in fact.
Tarn continues to specialize in hollow beads, particularly small, lightweight round beads in a variety of styles, of which the dottie is the most popular. This sparkling transparent bead accented with three rows of five contrasting dots each, adapts itself to a wide variety of designs. She's also slightly known for her chiming abstracts, frit and powder beads that make a delicate ringing sound when gently rolled against each other. Pixies, stripeys, curliQs and lace beads also contribute to her production lines; when in the mood to make large beads, Tarn enjoys making floral vase-shape beads and gaudy dichro covered focals.
Occasionally, Tarn breaks out of the practical mode, making totally useless objects like beaded curtains or triple hollow beads. Sylvus Tarn is a founding member of the GLBG and GlassAct251, a chapter of the ISGB, for whom she currently acts as webmistress. Her work has been published in Beadwork magazine, Cindy Jenkins Beads of Glass (though you have look pretty hard to find it) and the upcoming 500 Glass Beads.
Working Methods: (415 words)
Though perfectly willing to concede the influence of nature on her work or the inherent sacredness of the creative act, Sylvus Tarn knows no way to acknowlege these and other philosophically oriented issues as they affect her work without raising either her own gorge or that of her readers’, so she won't.
Technical details, however, lend themselves to explanation somewhat better. Though Tarn primarily uses Effetre and Vetrofond Italian soda-lime glasses, she's rather polyamorous in her approach to media—thus she's also been known to use other soda lime glasses (Czech, Bullseye, P.I.G.), leaded glasses (Satake, Czech) and even borosilicate (Northstar, Glass Alchemy) and even mystery stained glass scrap.
She generally works on 1/16” mandrels, 9” long, dipped in fusion bead release for production beads (i.e. usually less than 18mm long) and 3/32”, 9 or 12” long, dipped in Super Blue Sludge, mandrels for larger focal beads. However, the sludge tends to outgas more, and breaks in bigger chunks which are harder to remove from the small-holed beads.
After warming up the release, Tarn winds on a coil of molten glass; lets it stiffen; then proceeds to wind on more glass, as for coiling a pot. She makes half a bead this way; then starts at the other end of the bead and makes a second half-sphere, which she heats at the edges to seal.
To this basic process she might add trailing (dots, curliQs), ground or chunked glass (abstracts), or other surface coatings (pixie dust). Stripeys get their patterns from having the rods striped with several colors before the bead is made. Florals are decorated with trailing made with striped rod. All the beads are variations of simple techniques, combined in different ways.
After the bead is finished, Tarn puts it in the kiln to anneal, a process that typically takes 2-1/2 – 6 hours, and which she is happy to leave to her temperature controller, a specialized, programmable computer. When it's cool, she takes the bead(s) off the mandrel, grinds the bead release away from the holes and forces it out of the bead with a waterpik. These cleaning steps, though they don't sound important (and underwhelm the artist with thrills while doing them) are critical to the professionalism of the finished bead.
Though Tarn's tendancy is to textural, organic pieces, she finds the process of making beautifully shaped and nicely executed “simple” beads both extraordinarily challanging and meditative in nature.
Whew. You've survived my artiste-ness.
modified: Sat May 22 01:20:32 2004; *updated 18oct06, with the July06 A2 version.
Unless otherwise noted, text, image and objects depicted therein copyright 1996--present sylvus tarn.Sylvus Tarn