Artist of the Month – Eiko Emori – The Magic of Glass

by Sandra Marshall

Eiko Emori’s glass sculptures are based on a unique craft called pâte de verre, in which grains of glass are heated together in a high-temperature plaster mould to fuse them.

She was first attracted to glassmaking when admiring the colourful work of French artist, Émile Gallé, whose factory produced remarkable examples of Art Nouveau, and she wanted to learn more about glass work.

Japanese born Eiko earned a Masters degree of Fine Arts at Yale University and a Diploma in Design at the London Central School of Arts & Crafts. She also studied in France at Académie Grand Chaumière and worked as a graphic designer in Tokyo, New York and Toronto. She came to Canada in her mid-twenties, settling at first in Toronto and finally in Ottawa. Eiko’s graphic design expertise is in book design, including type and typography.

In the 1990s, she returned to Tokyo to support her mother. At that time, the glassmaking craft was located in a ward of Tokyo and Eiko took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about these arts. Following classes offered at a glass factory, she became enamoured of the pâte de verre process. When she returned to Canada, she carried on with this interest, refining her skills.

As member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, and Graphic Designers of Canada, Eiko continued in her graphic design business in Ottawa. She also began to develop her skills in working with glass, a process totally different from print media, in which the final product closely resembles the final sketch. She explains that working with pâte de verre is a collaborative process between the artist and the glass. In 2021, Eiko’s work was recognized by the Pattie Walker Memorial Award for excellence in architectural glass from Crafts Ontario and has also received an Ontario Arts Council Individual Craft Project Grant.

Glassmaking originated in the Middle East where artisans would gather sand from the desert and fuse the silica particles in hot wood fires. Unlike glassblowing, pâte de verre is a process of glassmaking that has relatively few established rules and examples. As a result, Eiko’s work continues to evolve, as she tries different approaches.

Movement in Blue Green – 41 x 33 x 8cm

Eiko describes the first part of the pâte de verre process as similar to the labour intensive preparation for bronze sculpture. First she makes a wax sculptural form. She then prepares a high-temperature plaster using a recipe that she developed through many iterations. The mould must be strong enough to tolerate the high temperatures needed to melt the glass.

The next step, the plaster removal process, is very tedious. Even with the help of electricity and a computerized thermostat, pâte de verre is still very time-consuming and cumbersome. She is not surprised that the technique was completely abandoned for two thousand years until it was revived in the early 1900s in France. However, Eiko is excited to see the piece emerge from its hard cocoon in the last stage. She sees glass as her partner and is happiest to see the piece emerge more beautiful than expected.

Eiko was trained in seeing as a child by a well-known painter, Takuji Nakamura, father of a classmate. He was a strict teacher, and encouraged his pupils to keep on drawing. She continued drawing throughout her formal art education. Eiko reminds students who wish to take up visual art that basic training in seeing is essential. Keep practicing, as this develops the critical hand/eye coordination of a skilled artist.

Eiko’s work is shown at the Foyer Gallery and Craft Boston. You can also see more of her work online at http://www.designerglassstudio.ca. These images are examples that show Eiko’s unique work. They are the results of her experiments in varying the method of plaster investing and temperature control of the kiln.

During this process she carries on a conversation with the glass inside the kiln.

Little Woods – 33 x 46 x 33cm

About mariasaracino

Figurative Artist
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