Cleveland glass artist Earl James crafts Anisfield-Wolf awards
On a 90-degree day in September, Earl James stood in front of a hot furnace collecting liquid glass on the end of a long pipe inside a Cleveland studio.
“It’s about the consistency of honey,” he said.
The process is called gathering – when liquid glass is pulled from the 1,900-degree furnace. From there, James shapes it, then gathers more of the lava-like liquid on top of the previous layer.
“For these pieces, we’ll take about four gathers,” he said, wiping sweat from his forehead.
For the past three years, James has crafted glass statuettes for each recipient of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, the Cleveland-based literary prize that honors writers whose works focus on racism and diversity.
Karen Long, manager of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, discovered James through the suggestion of her friend and fellow artist, Brent Kee Young.
"Mr. James is an artist capable of translating a book cover into a piece of sculpture that delights the writers every year," Long said. "And, it gives us a chance to braid an important Cleveland artist into the way we honor the winners of a Cleveland prize."
When designing the awards, James was given only one guideline to follow - incorporate the book cover.
“I took it and ran with it,” he said.
James noted the colors and imagery on the award winners’ book covers, and he also did research about who the authors are as people to inform his work.
With rough sketches, he creates a general map of which colors will appear and where.
Once James has a base layer of glass formed, he begins layering colors. Typically, he’ll start with a layer of white, which acts like a blank canvas for other colors to stand out against it.
“We'll hit the book cover idea with color and maybe some patterns. But then, what else is there that may give it a little bit of us?” he said. “What I take away from the book, I hope somebody can see that in what I put into the piece."
Studying glass in Cleveland
Born in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and raised in Rochester, New York, Earl James made his way to Cleveland to study glass and sculpture at the Cleveland Institute of Art, where he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1988.
“It was different. I had never seen glass before,” he said. “I saw them making glass and thought, ‘That is the most amazing thing.’ It’s one of those things that gets your heart racing.”
After earning his Master of Fine Arts from Alfred University in New York, James returned to Cleveland in 1990 and has been here ever since, sharing a studio in Collinwood with his wife, Linda, also a glass artist.
James creates both functional and nonfunctional pieces of art, giving attention to form, line and color.
In addition to his work in glass, he continues his pursuits in mixed-media sculpture, utilizing materials such as wood, metal and cement.
“I use birds and boats and chairs and different elements, and they're all about transition, moving from here to there,” he said. “Growing, falling, different situations that other people can identify with.”
James’s first solo exhibition, “Lingering Impressions,” features his works in sculpture and is on view at Sixty Bowls Gallery in Cleveland’s Hingetown neighborhood until Oct. 20.