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NLM Glass Arts —
   Nancy Meisner and Sam Henning

Ontario, Canada

info@nlmglassarts.com

by: Dwyn Tomlinson


Beading Times: How long have you been making beads?
Nancy Meisner: Since 2000.

Beading Times: What got you started making beads?
Nancy Meisner: I had done some jewelry design for myself with commercial beads (stone, silver) throughout the 1990's, then I started collecting lampwork art glass beads.


photo by Steven Elphick, Toronto
I think my main inspiration to collect lampwork beads, and then to start making them myself, was Cindy Jenkin's original picture-omnibus book, Making Glass Beads. Cindy's great accomplishment was to make almost everyone believe that they too could make those wonderful beads in the many pictures, and thus she broke down a lot of barriers to participation for many people. She's a major reason why there has been such an explosive growth of lampworkers in recent years.

Another big push was visiting the Tucson Best Bead Show in the late 1990's and 2000 — all those gorgeous beads clustered in tents in the hot desert sun, around a swimming pool in a small dusty Ho-Jo's with a tiny parking area just off I-10, like a bazaar in a desert oasis. (I'm sure that also got me interested in Bead Shows as well! Now Best Bead II is starting up in a small ballroom and poolside in a hotel, so it's déjà vu all over again…)

I started lampworking using Moretti glass and a lot of surface reduced silver; my favorite lampwork beads at the time were the metal powder abstract work of Renee Roberts and Stevie Belle. I always felt I was pushing or abusing the soft glass beyond normal limits to get what I wanted. Early on in my Moretti work, just after switching from my initial Hothead Torch to a Minor and finishing 20+ pieces for a big bead swap, I discovered a Glass Alchemy sample kit and some clear boro rods and started to play with it. I've done the vast majority of my lampwork in boro (borosilicate or "hard" glass) ever since.


photo by Steven Elphick, Toronto

Beading Times: Were you interested in making beads before that?
Nancy Meisner: I did meddle around a bit with polymer clay and did a bit of silver work before taking up lampworking. I never felt the evident plastic nature of my polymer clay beads was worthy of my using them in my jewelry.

Beading Times: Did you take a class?
Nancy Meisner: No, I'm self-taught.

Beading Times: What has surprised you most about working with glass?
Nancy Meisner: It's so hard to stop! There's an enticement about hot glass work that's addictive (there should be warnings!)

Beading Times: Whose beads inspire you the most? Is there any one person you would consider to be a mentor?
Nancy Meisner: I'm mentored mainly by the beads of others. Originally and continually I'm inspired by Rene Roberts' beads and by her approach to glass (and also her crossing-over from trial law to fulltime lampwork!). Her work with raw metal powders as a surface treatment instead of using colored glass is ground-breaking.

In boro colour, of course Sue-Ellen Fowler is an inspiration to all of us — without her recipes for mixing her own coloured boro from chemicals and clear tubing, we would have no commercial boro colours. And I love her dragons! Others worthy of mention in the boro world are not just beadmakers (as in boro we are influenced by techniques from the sculptural world as well): Bob Mickelson, Milon Townsend, Lewis Wilson; and some beadmakers: in boro: Amy Hafkowitz, Nancy Tobey, Gail Crossman-Moore; in Moretti besides Rene Roberts, Michael Barley and Andrea Guarino. There's a pattern there — all those beadmakers are abstractionists who use relatively few dots and fewer flowers…!

I have had a number of mentors in how to display and show beads, and certainly in the bead show promotion side (Joan Johnson of Bead Renaissance).

Beading Times: You talk about bead shows, and now you are starting your own. How did that happen?
Nancy Meisner: I've always loved bead shows! I've experienced all the top three US promoters' shows and others, to see different ways of doing things.

Why start our own? Well, there are no commercial bead shows in Canada, there are only a few bead society one-day shows, and yet there are so many bead shows in the US! As a vendor or customer in Canada, that's really frustrating. I'd have been delighted if someone else up here had started a show circuit and I would have supported them, but it wasn't happening and I thought it shouldn't wait much longer. So I started one!

Beading Times: So obviously, you are selling your beads. Where do you sell them?
Nancy Meisner: Of course! We do a lot of shows all over the place each year, and we have an online store where we sell our beads, marbles and jewelry, in addition to lampwork supplies, beading supplies, etc.


photo by Steven Elphick, Toronto

Beading Times: What does your family think of your beadmaking?
Nancy Meisner: My partner thought it was interesting so he started doing it too, and now he makes fully half the beads we sell (Sam Henning) and shares the workload in the e-business and does a lot of the selling at local shows. He also helps extensively with show set-up in our new bead show promotion business, the Canadian Bead Oasis Show, which was very successful in the debut of its annual Toronto show September 2004 (and its new sister show, Canadian Oasis Wearable Art and Craft Show coming up in 2005). We're very excited about these new shows and some others we are considering.

Beading Times: What is it like working with your partner? Is there a synergy in your work, or do you tend to work fairly independently to contribute to the whole?
Nancy Meisner: We've learned in boro that each person's work is really unique — we have trouble making each other's beads even when we'd like to, even in the production work in some styles! So we really do divide the work to be done — orders to fill, inventory to build up for the next big show, etc. We do feed off each other's discoveries though — the biggest fun in boro is playing and coming up with new ideas and experiments. When one discovers something neat, despite differences in personal styles, there's usually some other new idea that the other one will develop based on seeing that new thing. I guess that's synergy of a sort.

Beading Times: Sam, Nancy says "you thought it looked interesting." Is that how you remember it? ;-)
Sam Henning:
Yeah! I've always been fascinated by furnace glass work, and the lampwork form of glass working was a simple way of playing with glass. A touch of pyromania helps!

Beading Times: What was it about lampworking that appealed to you.
Sam Henning:
As above, working with molten glass has its attractions. Making something simple and subtle with elegance that emerges upon closer and continued examination has a satisfaction factor that is hard to beat — especially when other people agree!

Beading Times: Did you also teach yourself, or did you learn it from Nancy?
Sam Henning:
Mainly self taught. Nancy took a few minutes (literally) to show me some basics, and some reading on my own (as Nancy mentioned), was all. From there on it was just practice, experiment and learn from my mistakes.

Beading Times: Were you interested in any part of the jewelry making before that?
Sam Henning:
Jewelry per se — no. I've always liked making "things" — models when young (which I may yet get back into), software as a career, and now glass, first as an avocation and now as a vocation.

Beading Times: What sort of set up do you have for making beads? (Type of torch, gas, kiln, etc.)
Nancy Meisner: We use a Nortel Red Max torch (with a Minor on top), burning propane and oxygen from tanks, and an Arrow Springs kiln with a separate digital controller. We can't use oxygen concentrators as the boro colosrs require a very high-pressure oxygen setting. We have a custom high-volume hood ventilation system which covers the entire 7' worktable including the kiln, and is driven by a 16" squirrel-cage fan that resides outside the studio (for lower noise) and is connected to the hood by 8" flexible ducting. The ventilation system can suck most of the heat out of the studio in winter in short order but we believe that at least this level of ventilation is essential for hot glass work whether you do Moretti or boro.

Beading Times: Surely you have two torches?
Nancy Meisner: At present, we share a torch and take turns! There is so much other work on the business side, that it's usually easy to do. But there are times when we could certainly use a bigger studio. Right now it's a space limitation (to have enough counter space under ventilation for 2 torches, 2 kilns, plus piles of frit containers and rods and mandrels and tubing etc.) that we're hoping to fix next year.

Now the fun begins when Sam and I take turns on the torch — when I come back to work, where did those rods and frits I had out go...?! We've looked at carts with drawers on wheels but they always becomes really awkward to use. Need to build bigger space...

Beading Times: Do you have a favorite product, i.e. bead release, glass, etc.
Nancy Meisner: We sell lampwork supplies through our website, so it's tough to pick favorites. I do use both Northstar and Glass Alchemy colors interchangeably and often on the same bead, and I firmly believe that we need most of the colors both companies provide (and even though there are already over 150 colors of boro, we still need more). In terms of clear boro (which I don't sell at present) I prefer Symax, Kimble and Pyrex. I use Fusion Bead Separator.


Red Brocade

Beading Times: Do you have a favorite technique?
Nancy Meisner: I love abstraction and color, and the fluid interplay of both. That leads me to the use of frits, including clear frit, hobnailing, and raking with glass rods plus tool manipulation, rather than the precise placement of dots or flowers etc. Boro colors often require clear encasement to bring up certain shades, and layering of colors gives valuable effects, so encasement is common in most of our beads.

Beading Times: Hobnailing? Is this the same as raised bumps, i.e. vintage glassware?
Nancy Meisner: Ah yes, sorry — hobnailing is a term used in boro a lot, don't know where it came from, but the first I heard use it was Sue Ellen Fowler. It could have come from her teacher, John Burton (who was a boro blown-vessel maker and an early boro color developer who had a popular TV show in the US in the 1960's); since many many of the boro folk today have been taught by Sue Ellen, I suspect that's where it came into use. It refers to the adding of raised dots on the surface of a piece, usually in a geometric pattern — thus the reference to the hobnail rivets used on leather goods — and is often done with clear, and can be melted in flat or left raised.

Beading Times: Do you make sets?
Nancy Meisner: Yes, we make sets of bracelet/necklace/earring beads. However lately our sales have been shifting to be dominated by focals, by customer demand. I think part of this is due to the oversaturation of lampwork on eBay, which is reducing the value of sets.

Beading Times: Which do you prefer to make, a pile of beads or a single perfect bead?
Nancy Meisner: We both prefer to make focal beads. Somehow it feels that the effort was more significant with a great focal, and the photos are better too!

 


photo by Jerry Anthony, Utah

Beading Times: Have you developed a "signature" bead, a unique type of bead that is recognizably yours. Tell us about it, how you developed it, etc.
Nancy Meisner: I guess my variation of the vessel form is my current signature, as the "Jovian" marble and cylinder beads are for Sam. And of course those Brocade bead sets (especially red brocade) have become a signature pattern for us. But we experiment with many forms and color combos, and move on, and we really don't like to stick with one style only but like to let things evolve.


Amphorae by Nancy Meisner
photo by Steven Elphick, Toronto

Amphorae by Sam Henning

 


Sam's Jovian marble

Beading Times: Can you both make the same production beads, or are some exclusively done by one or the other of you?
Nancy Meisner: Boro is very changeable stuff — even with the same torch and gas pressures and same studio conditions, in some styles just the different ways in which people encase a bead can totally change the colors! So there are some styles that only I make, or only Sam makes. The rest, we both do, but still in many cases the results can vary somewhat.

Beading Times: What was your biggest obstacle to overcome?
Nancy Meisner: I really am not enamored of torch flames and it remains a relationship of cautious respect. Also, at the beginning I developed some ineffective habits on a couple of things like bead ends that I had to work hard on in the early days and overcame. Sam never had bead-end problems as he read Jim Kervin's booklet on Jim Smircich before ever making a bead, and he has never made a bead with a weak end.

Beading Times: What is the hardest kind of bead to make for you?
Nancy Meisner: Vessels are a love but also a tight-rope walk, as a perfect vessel can be botched by a bad handle. I only make them periodically, in groups. We both find that repetitively making a production style can be tough re: motivation, but it is an inevitable part of the business. Tubing beads are a challenge as we are most used to mandrel and off-mandrel beads.

Beading Times: What are "tubing beads?"
Nancy Meisner: In boro we have all that lovely (mostly) clear tubing in many diameters and several wall thicknesses, that are made for the scientific glass blowing business (they blow beakers and even big distilling units and retorts via lampworking, from glass tubing on a torch, usually also using a glass lathe). In boro beadmaking, we can make beads in an entirely different method than the more traditional soft glass lampworking methods (mandrel or punty-based off-mandrel), by blowing them using tubing. Although the working techniques differ in many ways from soft glass furnace blowing, and the equipment needed is much less, there are a lot of similarities too in working blown beads and one can achieve many similar effects — for boro examples, see Roger Paramore's very Venetian-styled goblets and Robert Mikelson's Venetian-inspired sculptural vessels, plus the work of Cesare Toffolo, in various web sites, videos, books and magazines. We can make hollow beads with inside-out decorations or surface decorations in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.

Beading Times: The easiest?
Nancy Meisner: Well, aside from spacers, some of our production bracelet beads are really fun for me as they are a release from the effort of other types.

Beading Times: What is your favorite kind of bead or technique?
Nancy Meisner: Right now I'm really enjoying the flat focals, and when something is fun, it's easy no matter how complicated it is. I think Sam enjoys the marbles first but he has been playing with beads for key chains etc. as well.


marble bead

Beading Times: How have your beads changed? Since you started or over the years?
Nancy Meisner: They've gotten bigger, a lot bigger, and techniques have expanded a lot. With our science background we love to experiment with color combinations and chemistry. The beads continue to evolve in ways I can't predict.

Beading Times: What is the science background?
Nancy Meisner: I have a Masters in Math and a Bachelors in Math, but originally I was in Chemistry and switched streams, so I have almost enough credits in Chemistry to have gotten a degree in that instead.

Beading Times: How does the chemistry background help?
Nancy Meisner: Chemistry, chemistry, all is chemistry! In a ultra-simplified view, clear glass is just some special sand and a few chemicals, all melted together. Colored glass is clear glass with a few more chemicals that are added to give color, brightness, clarity etc. In boro, the industry is just 15 years down the road from when artists had to mix their own color recipes from chemical powders, mixing a pinch of their favorite formula into a clear boro tube and pulling their own color rods (Sue Ellen Fowler's video has a neat example of her creating her marvelous version of Amber Purple from a little vial of powder). There are far fewer boro workers than soft glass workers and boro workers have been working color for a much shorter period of time (compared to Moretti's claim of 500-year-old formulas); if you look at pictures of famous glass sculptures of the 1970's by artists such as Lewis Wilson, you'll note those works were all done in clear.

Many glass colors react chemically with each other, in soft glass or boro, and as things converge in our global exchange of information, you are now seeing Moretti come up with colors like 288 Dk Silver Plum that almost look like boro, and boro developing some colors which have brightness almost like Moretti colors. But there are still many many more reactive colors in boro than in soft glass. When you are working with reactive colors, it really helps to understand the chemistry behind the reactions in coming up with neat color combinations. If you know how to make color A in the first place, it helps you understand how it will react in the flame and with color B.

Beading Times: Do you still have the first beads you made? What do you think of them now?
Nancy Meisner: I still have a jar of my first Moretti beads. I think we should all hang on to our beginner beads, to keep our egos grounded!

Beading Times: What was your scariest beadmaking experience?
Nancy Meisner: Well, in boro shops they like to coin different humorous names for those "runaway" chunks of very hot glass that get away and run around the studio floor! Hopefully they avoid your lap, and the dog/cat!! We have a porcelain tile floor in our studio and a sheet metal table top. But in doing off-mandrel work (and sometimes in mandrel work in boro when you "flash" through a 3/32" mandrel!), the odd runaway is inevitable.


marble

Beading Times: Have you had any "glass epiphanies" while working — some revelation or understanding? What were they?
Nancy Meisner: To me, hot glass work is a meditation, and provides some of the mind-expansions that meditation can bring.

Beading Times: Do you have a technique or method or tip to share?
Nancy Meisner: Boro beads need light in their cores to shine, and boro color is very expensive (typically $45+ US per pound) while boro clear is much cheaper than Moretti. So most boro beads are mainly clear at the core and color built up on the outside.

Beading Times: Have you "invented" any new tools, or recycled something that wouldn't ordinarily be thought of as a tool for lampworking?
Nancy Meisner: We make a lot of our own tools, and buy others. We've used all kinds of household things for tools. Sam invented a very useful version of a bent hemostat that we sell that can hold a rod or stringer vertically or horizontally.

Beading Times: Could you share with us some pictures of your studio set up?
Nancy Meisner: Here are a couple of desk-top shots (taken with the sidewalls off the hood to get more natural light for the photos) to show the typical lampworker clutter!


This is what happens to your workspace when you work a lot in frits and powders — a tall stack of tins of every color, every size, commercially available and hand-made..


the other side of the table — lots of rods, tools, big tools, tubing hiding under the kiln... better shot of the torch with the modified torch marver mount


Some flat focals about to emerge from the small kiln (AF-99).

Beading Times: What about photographing your beads — what do you use to get your pictures?
Nancy Meisner: We have tried upside-down plastic food containers and many different lights. We still prefer daylight outdoors for boro bead photos. All our photos for juried shows and most ads are done by professional photographers who specialize in glass (Steven Elphick in Toronto and Jerry Anthony in the US).

Beading Times: Do you have a website or auction site that you regularly sell you beads on?
Nancy Meisner: Yes, www.nlmglassarts.com

Beading Times: Do you sell at shows or in stores or other venues? Do you sell the beads by themselves, or already made up into jewelry?
Nancy Meisner: We sell mainly at shows and through our website, and also through a few galleries and stores. We sell both unstrung beads and our jewelry which uses them, and we are beginning to sell kits that incorporate our beads, plus instruction booklets.

Beading Times: Where do you see yourself going with lampworking/glassworking in the future? Or, where do you see it taking you?
Nancy Meisner: It's an amazing world filled with some amazing people. I love going to the ISGB (International Society of Glass Beadmakers) Gathering each year, just to enjoy the powerful collective "energy" of all those highly creative people in one place. To me, it typifies the creative rush that lampwork provides.

I would hope to continue boro lampworking in future and letting it develop where it may take me. I suspect that more blown work and larger pieces is a possible new direction for us. We also hope to expand the bead shows to allow more lampworkers and other bead exhibitors to have more opportunities in Canada to show and sell their work/products.

Beading Times: Do you have a favorite bead, a "best bead." Can you share a photograph with us?
Nancy Meisner: The nicest new bead I just made! Of course, no pics yet... That's tough, as I have a couple of favorites of each style we've evolved through. And many of those have been sold. We do our big photo sessions once in January and sometimes twice per year, and for us, a lot happens in a year so our photos lag behind the work quite a lot.

(photos by Nancy Meisner or Sam Henning, unless credited otherwise)


Beading Times is pleased to present a monthly article spotlighting a lampwork bead artist. If you, or someone you know is interested in being featured, please contact dwyn@beadingtimes.com. Article Copyright 2004 Dwyn Tomlinson. Photos are the property of the featured artist(s) and are used with permission.