August 03 2016

In the Studio with Pamela Sabroso & Alison Siegel

Every year, UrbanGlass asks a local maker to design and fabricate centerpieces for our Annual Gala Fundraiser. With Pam and Alison's collaborations gaining momentum over the last few years, they were the perfect pick. Their work together is intuitive and playful while also skillfully made. They met in Brooklyn in 2012 and after teaming up on several projects- including "Pom Pom Party", an installation inspired by their common interest in mushroom identification and tie-dye- their work evolved into the sculptural vessels displayed on our auction tables this year, and now available for sale in the UrbanGlass store. It was a lot of fun chatting with them about their process and dynamic as a team and we're excited to see what might be up for them next. 

If you had to pick out each other's artistic traits, what would they be?

Alison: I'm very lucky to get to work with Pam. She's really special and has a unique point of view. I think she is very brave both as a person and artistically. What I mean is, she's not afraid to take risks and to experiment. No idea seems out of reach if it's something that one of us wants to accomplish. I think I tend to be a little bit more conservative and worry more about planning the outcome, but Pam is more free and open to unforeseen possibilities that come from leaving things to chance. From working with her I've learned to trust in accidents and not to see the unexpected as a mistake, but as an opportunity to try something new and to go in a totally different direction.

I think Pam also has a sort of tongue-in-cheek humor that comes out occasionally. The best example of this is her idea to display some of our centerpieces on top of exotic fruit soda cans. The juxtaposition of the cheap soda with the glass at the fancy gala was really funny to me, and I thought it was a clever way to remind people that the forms we were using were from actual fruits and vegetables.

Pam: I'm always fascinated with Alison's abilities as a maker. Her apartment is filled with different projects she's worked on over the years like miniature crayon castings and some really funny and disturbing books she collaged as an adolescent, which I love. She's also covered cheap plastic toys in swarovski crystals which I think is a very clever idea.

She has great attention to detail, her fruit and veggie waxes were always combined very thoroughly where as mine were sloppily put together, I was impressed with her wax working skills. She has great craftsmanship which I admire.

What drew each of you to glass and who's idea was it to start collaborating?

Alison: When I was a kid I saw a man at a crafts fair who made glass vases and bowls and nick-knacks. I had never realized that glass was a viable medium to work with, like clay or wood. At Alfred, I took a couple classes and just knew that I wanted to keep going and to get better. Glass to me is like a musical instrument. It takes dedication and practice, but the more you work at it, the better you get. There's just something really satisfying about making something out of glass successfully that utilizes the skills you've spent years acquiring. I guess that's why I keep working with the material and why I love it so much.

We started working together in the hot shop, and naturally started to influence each other and give each other ideas. We also like to tie dye together and had made some collaborative jewelry, so when the open call for the window at UrbanGlass came up, we decided to apply to do something together. That was our first big collaborative project. From that opportunity, we got the chance to show similar work at Pelham Art Center, and at Tiger Lounge in Brooklyn.

Pam: Glassblowing is really challenging but fun to do I think that's why I continued to pursue it, to get better and because I really enjoyed the act of making an object in a short amount of time. I feel lucky to make a living doing something I enjoy doing so much.

Alison and I met at Brooklyn glass and began assisting each other in the hot shop which led to us sharing our creative ideas. When we applied for the window install we had the initial idea to use neon, glass and plants. We brainstormed ideas in her apartment. She had been making tassels that were hung on her wall which led to us discussing pom poms. And so it all came very natural, we knew we would use pom poms to build a landscape. She taught me how to make a pom pom and it was a funny experience. I like that our work is intuitive and playful.

This series strikes such a great balance between playful experimentation and technical skill. Do you take more risks as a team?

Pam: Technically the hot blow mold technique isn't easy because you only get one chance to blow into the mold, but there is plenty of opportunity to take chances with the object you wish to cast. It was really fun to play around with the different fruits and try to predict how the glass would fill the mold. A lot of times I didn't want to make waxes to then steam out of the mold so I just left the mushroom specimens and sweet gum seeds hoping that they would burn out in the kiln and detail would be good in the finished piece. Additionally glass color combinations can be a little unpredictable especially if you're not used to experimenting with a lot of color so that was always a fun surprise for me once the pieces were demolded.

I think all of our hot shop endeavors are playful experiments. We always encourage each other and find ways to make the pieces work even if it's not what we initially intended to make.

Alison: Pam and I work together in the hot shop pretty often, even when we're making things for ourselves and not for a collaboration. It's nice to see what we're both doing. Later on, we can talk about the work and give each other ideas. This can also lead to future collaborations. 

Working together also forces you to let go of ownership of an idea or project. I think this really allows more playfulness into the work. Personally, I feel more open to trying something crazy because we're in it together, and we're trying to figure something out, rather than trying to execute an idea that's already fully formed in my brain. There's much less of a straight line between idea and outcome, and more of a meandering path where the outcome isn't necessarily known, and that's very freeing.

We definitely take more risks as a team. We help and encourage each other when we want to make larger or more complicated pieces that would be hard to make on our own. It's nice to have a friend encouraging you to push your boundaries. Pam also really pushed for the hot blow molds. I felt hesitant to try them, but her confidence that we could do it made me open to trying something totally new and out of my comfort zone.

There is a lot of freedom in the materials you choose to work with while keeping the emphasis on glass. Did this series help you push any creative or technical boundaries?

UrbanGlass gave us a tremendous opportunity when they asked us to do the centerpiece project. Cybele and Rachel really emphasized that we had total creative freedom, and I think that really helped us not feel hemmed in by any expectations of what a centerpiece is or what we were supposed to do. The support of the UrbanGlass community was amazing, and we're so grateful that we were given the chance and the resources to experiment and to figure out how to make this body of work. Without UrbanGlass' support, we certainly would not have been able to make so many pieces that we're both so proud of.

What are some sources of inspiration for you living here in Brooklyn?

Pam: I love spending time in parks and I've discovered there are so many amazing ones here in NYC. I became a member of the New York Mycological society and I've learned a lot about mushrooms and wild edible plants. I think it inspired the centerpiece project as well as Pom Pom Party.

Alison: I am very interested in pattern and mixing colors and patterns in different ways. I love to combine glass with other materials, and to change the texture of the surface of glass, whether with a mold, with bit work, or by adding to the surface once the glass is cold. I am very inspired by the mixing of colors and patterns in African textile jewelry. That playful balance is something that I seek to achieve in many of the things I make. I also studied graphic design in school, and am inspired by the graphic design that I see all over the city, whether in magazines, billboards, product design, graffiti, or in museums. The other artists in Brooklyn are also amazing. I admire so many members of my direct community, and feel lucky to consider them as mentors, resources, inspiration and friends.

Were there any surprises in how the pieces turned out and is there anything that you learned from this series that you would want to try again?

Alison: We found the more textured the fruit, the better the waxes came out. Some successful exotic fruits were the durian, romanesco, osage orange, and poppy pods. The tower candle holders were also fun to make, and we'd like to work with the form some more.

Pam: The durian was great for filling holes in my sloppy wax working and the detail always came out well in the glass. I enjoyed casting the fruit directly into the plaster silica mold like bananas and oranges. I was able to reuse the orange peels which was nice. Peanuts were a great snack in the mold shop and the shells worked well for texture.

We had a large piece break due to color incompatibility but were able to reuse some  pieces in another blow mold. It's a technique I would like to try again.

How did you come up with the idea for this series once UG approached you?

We knew we wanted to make something colorful and different, and to make a series of objects for the table. We both did drawings, and talked about what we could reasonably do within our budget and with the time we had.

You can view our entire collection of Pam and Alison's collaboration here or come see them in person at the UrbanGlass store.

-- Tina Tacorian