By Leti Wesolowski, contributor
Valerie Bartron is a self-taught artist who has been designing lampwork beads and jewelry since 2012. She creates her original art using an oxygen and propane fueled torch, Italian glass and American-made double helix glass. She achieves unusual and interesting designs by adding pure silver, enamel powders and special reduction frit and annealing each piece for lasting durability. She has been a member of Commonwheel for over a year now and has participated with her lampwork jewelry at many gallery shows and at our Labor Day Weekend Art Festival. Valerie enjoys creating unique “molten treasures” to fit her customer’s unique styles.
How did you get interested in lampworking?
It was purely serendipity! A good friend was preparing for an overseas move. Unbeknownst to me she had a lampwork studio she hadn't touched for well over five years and she decided to sell it off. At a luncheon she asked if any of us might be interested in purchasing her studio. When I asked what type of studio set up she had she said “lampwork”. I thought she was talking about light fixtures. That's how unfamiliar I was with this art! I was curious and asked if she could show me exactly what she did. After the luncheon I went directly to her house and watched her make a simple round bead. That was the beginning of my love affair with glass art i.e. lampwork!
Where do you get inspiration?
I love natural beauty. I find inspiration in such things as landscapes, flowers, beautiful fabrics, just to name a few. I also love texture! I've realized most of my beads have a raised design or texture. I also get inspiration from people's needs.
Tell us about your creative process-- how do you transform a rod of glass into a perfect glass bead?
When I notice something particularly beautiful I take note of the colors and shapes. I'll try to figure out how to create this in glass. As strange as it might sound, it's not unusual for me to dream of a way to achieve the different layers of glass to make what I see in my mind’s eye.
Is there a glass artist(s) that you admire/follow?
Yes! Astrid Riedel from South Africa, Patty Leota Genack from Beulah, CO., and Jody Welch from Black Forest, CO., to name just a few. Their work is absolutely amazing! I’ll never stop learning from others.
There are glass beads and then there are amazing tree of life pendants! Which one do you enjoy the most?
The Tree of Life pendants are definitely the ones I enjoy making. Partly because they seem to represent something special for so many. I find it humbling and fulfilling when somebody purchases a piece that isn't simply jewelry but symbolizes something really special to them. It took a long time to develop the skills to make the Tree of Life pendant. They take many hours from start to the finished product.
What is your proudest achievement?
I'm fairly new to this medium. I've only been a lampworker for just short of five years. After a year of continuous work my oldest daughter asked if she could bring some of my beads into a well-established bead shop to see if they would be interested in buying them. When they ended up buying over $900 worth and asked me to continue to bring beads in, that was without a doubt a day I won't forget.
Being accepted into the Commonwheel Artists Co-op was a thrill! I was searching for someone to make sterling silver neck rings to hang my Tree of Life pendants. I met up with a husband and wife team, members of the Commonwheel. They do beautiful sterling silver work! I brought in a few of my pieces I had intended to hang off the neck rings. They were very kind and said they loved my work. They told me when a space became available for a jeweler that I should apply. It took a little over a year before one opened. The rest is history…
What is your best seller/ your favorite piece of all time? What is the story behind it?
I love making all sorts of beads! The Tree of Life pendants are without question my best seller. I love the mountain setting in which we live in. I wanted to see if I could capture in some small way our beautiful scenery. That's how the Tree of Life pendant was born.
The vessels are special to me as well. I have several clients that have purchased multiple vessels for essential oils. An example was a close friend who was preparing for a trip to Italy. She was nervous as she gets motion sickness. She often used essential oils to help soothe her symptoms. Her mother wanting to give her something special as a departing gift asked if I could make a piece of jewelry to be worn to hold the essential oils. That's when I taught myself how to make small vessels. I used her favorite colors along with some sterling silver foil inherited from her grandfather who was once a jeweler.
I've also made vessels for people that wish to put their pets or loved ones’ ashes in. I permanently seal them. No one knows except for the client what is held inside. I've also made beads with ash encased inside to put into a necklace. It's not for everyone but those that choose to do it seem to get comfort from having it close and unassuming.
What’s next for you?
I work in what's called soft glass. Simply said this glass melts at a lower temperature than other art glass. There are so many beautiful colors to choose from. It's easy to get carried away. Before you know it you've invested in thousands of dollars’ worth! There's a fabulous glass, Double Helix which is a reactive glass, meaning it changes colors depending on the type of flame you put it in. It's a difficult glass to learn to use but the rewards are amazing! I'm on my third torch and have another on order. Each type of torch is used for a specific type of work. I started off with a $45 Hothead which was perfect to learn on. As my pieces got a little bigger and the detail more refined I purchased new torches. I'm always looking for something new and unique I can make. If I get stumped on how to achieve a certain technique, there are wonderful online lampwork communities to tap into!
In the past I've always purchased sterling silver pieces to hang my pendants on as well as chain. I'm just beginning to learn how to do my own soldering and create my own bails for my pieces. Recently I've started incorporating semi-precious stone chain to enhance my work.
I could do this work for another 30 years and just scratch the surface of possibilities!
To see Valerie’s designs in person visit Commonwheel Artist Co-op and take advantage of 10% off all purchases of Valerie’s jewelry in April 2017. She offers a wide selection of necklaces, pendants on chains, loose beads, earrings and bracelets.
You can find her work also at our online shop here. Locally, her loose beads are sold in White Rabbit Beads and heArt Market in old Colorado City, and Chimayo Turquoise in Woodland Park. Follow her Facebook page at facebook.com/atouchofglassforyou
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