Professional glass artist Rene Culler relocated to Mobile from Cleveland, Ohio in 2010 to lead the glass program at the University of South Alabama. Rene received her Master’s in Fine Arts from Kent State, is a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar. While at the University of South Alabama, she was voted one of the 50 top researchers in the past 50 years for her knowledge of Kiln work for research conducted when she was a Fulbright Scholar in Korea.
Kiln worked glass with new compatible colors is a fairly new art form. Rene also taught at the Cleveland Institute of Art, New York, Korea, and Turkey. She recently opened her studio here in Mobile where she teaches classes in kiln worked glass.
I became aware of Rene’s artistry in 2017 when she presented “The Delta” at the Mobile Museum of Art. Comprised multiple styles of glass, the piece took her a year to create. She remembers flying into Mobile and was fascinated by the colors and shapes of Delta from the plane window and she knew she wanted to recreate it in glass.
BUILDING THE STUDIO
In her studio in Mobile, which is housed in a former engineering office, she recently designed and built a large Kiln, a fire brick lined chamber used for heating the glass to temperatures of fifteen hundred degrees. She is a woman of many talents, which includes welding. She learned the trade while in school. It was expensive to buy a kiln so the students learned to build the tools needed to work the glass. She also has a sandblaster, for blasting glass as well several smaller kilns which are lined with fire brick. Her wall of Frit, or colored glass, in the studio is not only functional but attractive. She explained that “Kiln-glass work can be done on your own, but blowing glass, you need help to do.”
With blowing glass, she explained, “Your body can only put up with so much. There’s a rush when working, you want the opportunity to create something.” I asked her how did decided what to charge for a piece. “You can’t charge what it’s worth. Two hours and thirty years,” She laughed.
She is very interested in pattern tile and created a magic square which is based on squares she has seen in Istanbul. The squares are based on the phases of the moon. In the 1400’s astronomer’s assigned numbers to the stars, if you add the numbers on the diagonal, you get the same number. She said, “We can’t survive without numbers. The future is all about numbers.”
HISTORY OF THE ART
She told me about Dale Chihuly, perhaps one of the most recognized names in the glass world when he had received a grant to teach people how to blow glass in 1971. With the assistance of sixteen students, the group built shelters and glass blowing furnace at an old tree farm in Washington State. When there was no money to do a second year, Chihuly found a sponsor who owned the tree farm in order to continue the program. This is now the Pilchuck Glass School, which is one of the world’s top schools for glass artists.
INSTALLATIONS AROUND THE GLOBE
Rene has created many installations for hospitals and libraries across the county. She has been told that people “Like her work because they see different things in it.” She has pieces in both of Cleveland’s teaching hospitals. One San Diego hospital told her not to use too much red in the installation, they wanted calm colors because the color and shape affects each individual’s emotions.
She has traveled throughout the world and did her Fulbright scholar work in 2012 in Korea. “Art is a big deal there.” She blew a lot of glass while in Korea and was able to show her work in Seoul. “I really enjoy learning about other cultures, Learning about the philosophy behind what they do.” While there her husband began to learn and read Korean, which was not an easy task.
Rene is also an accomplished author with “Glass Art from the Kiln” and the forthcoming “Imagery in Glass.”
What does the artist love about glass? “It’s a great experience, magical stuff. To take something from the earth is opaque and make it transparent.” Transforming glass is just “Another idea of a common material that is taken for granted.” She said.
WHERE TO FIND RENE
Seek out Rene’s work or experience one of her workshops at her studio at 2468 Commercial Park Drive, Mobile Al 36606. On December 1, 2018, Rene will host a Holiday Open Studio and Sale event from 11-4.