Erin: What are you curious about?
Lesley: Probably the same stuff most makers are curious about. How people create & run a successful studio-based business, how things are made that I don't know how to make. Also why my cat always stares at the ceiling.
Erin: Describe your work and describe your process.
Lesley: I hope that my work is a more modern concept of stained glass, I want it to feel fresh and new and surprising. The technical side of the process is pretty typical of Tiffany-style stained glass with some of my own techniques, but aside from that, I'd say that I try and have an open mind and a wide variety of influence, but also a relatively narrow focus. I say no to things a lot. Craftsmanship is also very important to me, I really believe you have to put in the time to develop a real understanding of the material and the technical side (of anything) before you can really become innovative.
Erin: You studied glass sculpture at Alfred University’s small, but renowned design college and later worked with sheet glass in Portland, Oregon. How have these places and experiences affected your approach today?
Lesley: Alfred is really much more of a crafts-based school than design-based, or at least those can seem like somewhat separate pursuits there. It's a school where, especially if you are studying glass or ceramics, you will learn everything possible about material and process and technique, as well as conceptual art. Like... there are literally classes on how to build kilns, not just fire them. There is A LOT of discussion about the relationship between art and craft. It's also an extremely driven and focused environment. Alfred affected, or at least reinforced, my work ethic I think, and taught me to how to think through why I was doing what I was doing, which I still find necessary. It's an environment that encourages one to take what you're doing seriously.
In Portland, I think I probably learned something that I've since forgotten about work/life balance; also that's where I learned how to cut sheet glass consistently and to understand what production really means.
Erin: How long did it take for you to learn the skills in glass cutting and soldering that you use to make your beautiful pieces today?
Lesley: I'd say that I still feel like I'm learning all the time, even if it's just learning how to work faster or cleaner, or to be a better designer. I have been cutting glass for maybe 10 years in various capacities, and soldering for 5 or 6, but soldering well in particular is really a matter of hundreds of hours of practice. I had tried to make a version of the Origami Cranes I make now years ago and it's basically a pile of pieces on a shelf in my apartment. It took years to revisit that design and rework it to a point where it's something I feel good about making.
Erin: What one piece of advice would you share with someone wanting to approach glass work?
Lesley: Wear a proper respirator, even in summertime.
Erin: Can we hear about your experience studying abroad in Prague and the whacky course you took there?
Lesley: I took some classes when I first arrived, but I lived there for 3 years. One of the classes was on underground culture during the Communist occupation, taught by Pavla Jonssonová, a member of one of the first female punk bands in the Czech Republic & total badass. The other was sort of an architectural history course, taught by Vacláv Cílek, who is a historian-geologist-philosopher-genius. We would meet at some designated point in the city and he would point out nondescript doors that lead to Cold War-era bunkers, or explain the context of a statue with the head knocked off, or point out where America accidentally dropped a bomb on a monastery during WWII. After that, I did lots of strange jobs but my favorite was at a tiny shop where we sold "American" food to expats (cake mix, root beer, Reese's Cups, marshmallows, etc etc) and rented out US-format VHS tapes and DVDs. (Most popular rentals: Friends and The West Wing on VHS).
Erin: Art Deco and architecture are a few sources of your inspiration, but where else do you find it?
Lesley: I look at a lot of textiles, a lot of furniture and anything with a lot of patterning. Lately everywhere I look I see amazing rugs, and weaving is having such a moment. I basically never look at stained glass, partially to keep a clean design process and partially because I think there's generally more interesting stuff happening in other mediums that I don't have any connection to, if that makes sense.
Erin: You work in a creative environment with other makers and designers in and around your studio. How important is collaboration to you and what has come from it in the past?
Lesley: Collaboration can be amazing, especially with someone with an entirely different skillset. I'm working on something now with Haena Kang, who's a friend and studiomate and an amazing painter. I've also had some great experiences working with woodworkers, which is a skill I don't really have but is SO USEFUL. But it is often difficult to find the right time and the right project, so it's not something that's a huge focus of mine generally.
Erin: If you could collaborate with anyone dead or alive, who would it be with and what would it look like?
Lesley: Um... I have no idea. Murphy Brown. She's hilarious, comes with a great soundtrack and she's super decisive. I could collaborate with her housepainter and some windows in her townhouse. So Murphy Brown's housepainter? I don't think I have a real answer, it's something that just has to come up organically... my instinct is always to work alone, I can't even manage an intern.
Erin: What superpower would you have and why?
Lesley: The ability to pause time so I could finish things before I have to be somewhere or do something else. Or, like, that thing where people are great at public speaking and media and all that. Or flying obviously
Erin: What is it like working with glass and fire all day long?
Lesley: Working with glass is challenging and relaxing and both predictable and unpredictable and generally great. Unfortunately the reality of running a business is that a lot of time is spent working with the computer and the camera and the internet, which is all less of those things.
Erin: Tell us why the world needs to look through rose (and other colored) glasses.
Lesley: It doesn't! I'm a cynic at heart.