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ART DE VERRE

Gathering of the Guilds shines a light on Portland's 'hotbed' of ancient artform
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Cynthia Morgan, sitting in her Northwest Portland home studio, uses glass powder and crystal to make pate de verre, glassmaking which had been fairly dormant since France’s Art Noveau period around the turn of the 19th century.

It can be tedious to make, difficult to perfect, expensive with supplies and pretty messy, but the finished product shimmers with transparent brilliance, the colors revealing themselves in various light.

The art of making pate de verre glass has been an enduring passion for Cynthia Morgan, who has dedicated her artistic life to creating the art that became the rage during the France's Art Nouveau period of the late 1890s, early 1990s, and goes even further back to the ancient Egyptian style of glassmaking called faience.

Some of her work will be on display, and she'll be doing demonstrations, at the Gathering of the Guilds, which features artists from various genres at the Oregon Convention Center this weekend.

When Morgan sits in her Northwest Portland home studio, with glass powders at her disposal, she realizes the possibilities are endless in pate de verre glassmaking.

'It's the sense of control, the way this stuff is put together,' says Morgan, a content strategist for Mentor Graphics. 'Through the transparency of the surface detail, it makes it such a fabulous hobby or art form or whatever you want to call it. It really is almost unlimited. You can make it look like metal, stone, glass - whatever you want to do.'

Morgan says Portland is 'a hotbed' for pate de verre enthusiasts, and the glass art sells to the dedicated art collectors. But, it's not about the sales for Morgan, who simply enjoys making pretty things through imagination and color coordination.

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Tribune Photo: Christopher Onstott • Cynthia Morgan's Northwest Portland home is filled with various art pieces, including several of pate de verre glass mix, distinctive by its transparent nature.

Morgan starts by making a mold for the intended art - be it a bowl, a wall piece, a figurine - a complicated process in itself with clay and then silicone. She pours wax into the silicone, and it takes on the impression of the art.

With scores of bottles of colored 'frit' glass powder and granules at her disposal, Morgan starts the creative process. A healthy grasp on color palette comes in handy, as she seeks the intended look of the glass. She lines and sprinkles the frit, imagining how the colors will come through after the baking process in the kiln, using water and mucilage to bond the powders and granules.

'The neat thing about it is you can mix these like water colors,' she says.

Pate de verre bakes in the kiln at about 1,400 degrees, cooler than clay. Once out of the kiln, the art is cleaned and polished, and it takes on the look of alabaster or jade.

Trapped art particles give pate de verre its brilliance 'and the piece will start to glow because of it,' she says. 'When you put this (frit) down in layers, you're accentuating the trapped bubble look.'

It can be time-consuming, but enriching for an artist. The first time Morgan tried to make something, it came out well done.

'I was trying to make a mountain, and making mountains you start with a cone (mold),' she says. 'It kept looking like a face, so I started making faces.'

One of her pieces of art shows a man holding his hand to his head, almost in disbelief, the yellow color giving him the look of a comic-book character. Turns out, the man was a coworker telling Morgan about his impending marriage. 'He had this look of utter terror,' she says, smiling.

Another piece, which she has done twice, depicts a woman's Alzheimer's patient she had met while living in New York. In separate pieces of art, she looks angry in one, bewildered in another. With pate de verre, the image doesn't reveal itself until the process has been completed.

And, it's all glass.

'If you talk to pate de verre artists … no paint, they don't do that,' Morgan says. 'But I can mix (the glass) like oil paints, which is wonderful. But, it also means you get to pay for it,' and glass can be expensive.

Morgan has begun teaching interested folks with the Oregon Glass Guild, for which she serves as chapter president.

'It's extremely popular,' she says, of pate de verre, 'because you can do so much with it.'

The Gathering of the Guilds will be held from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 29 and 30, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 1, at the Oregon Convention Center, 777 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Admission is free.

For more information, see portlandtribune.com