Amber Cowan Glass Artist - Philadelphia, USA

“I rework objects currently relegated to the aesthetic dustbin of history.  I reincarnate them into ornate abstractions.” Discuss this statement in relation to your current work.


White Swan Theatre, Glass and Mixed Media, Flameworked, Fused and Constructed American Pressed Glass 26 x 20.5 x 5.5 in

The glass that I use is no longer being produced. It was produced by now defunct pressed glass manufacturers. I get a lot of material from a cullet yard in West Virginia that was originally supplied by the Fenton Art Glass factory. This particular cullet yard supplied the furnaces of a lot of the original American studio glass movement. The colors are therefore dead stock colors that evoke a memory because of their original use. People often recognize the colors or the objects but they are presented in a new way. I also use glass from thrift stores, eBay, antique stores, flea markets and donations.

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Garden of the Forgotten and Extinct, Detail

Expand on the way your work brings back memories?

I like this example:  I had a piece at The Philadelphia International Airport for several months. This piece utilized vintage green pressed glass dishes and vases. I received a brief but beautiful email from a man who said he stood in front of the piece and remembered a memory of his grandparents serving him ice cream sundaes in these dishes. He said he shed a tear that he hadn’t thought of that memory in 40 years.


River Mint, Detail.

This is the kind of memories that I hope to invoke. Another series of my work involves utilizing milk glass snack sets originally made by the Indiana Glass Factory. After some research I found out that the snack sets were originally purchased through S&H Green stamps. Therefore, this particular line of milk glass was popular because of their availability through the reward and return system. Subsequent generations have since gotten rid of these dishes because they have gone out of style. But, people still remember their use and it evokes memories of family and domesticity.


River Green and Mint, Glass Red Oak, Mixed Media,

Flameworked and Constructed American Pressed Glass, 52 x 17 x 8in

You also say “I keep the pieces between beautiful and sinister” expand on this using two pieces, beautiful and sinister?

I don’t necessarily think that all of my work has a sinister quality but I hope that my textures evoke emotion. I think that some of my shapes such as the spikes and the viral accrual in general can be menacing. I think that more often it feels alive and growing, only stopped by its chosen frame.

On a different level can you expand on your piece, ‘Spike’.

I made this piece in graduate school. I think that this piece fits into the earlier statement about beautiful and sinister. From far away it looks soft and up close it is very sharp and menacing.


Spiked, Flamework, Glass and Mixed Media, 5.2ft x 4 x 8in.

Discuss your collection of pressed glass.

I do have a large collection at this point. I collect from thrift stores, antique stores and eBay.  I volunteer at a thrift store in Philadelphia that benefits AIDS patients and find a lot of material at the store.  Also, people send me stuff. People I have never even met see my work and send me glass. I think that sometimes they have a glass collection from their parents or grandparents that they no longer want to keep but feel bad getting rid of. They send it to me to keep the memory alive in a way.

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Where and how you store the collection?

I have a home studio and also a studio in my neighborhood where I store the collection. Sometimes I save special pieces for the right piece. I was saving white milk glass animals and ended up using a lot of special pieces for my Rakow Commission at The Corning Museum of Glass.

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Whole Milk Wash Basin in Colony Harvest,

Flameworked and Fused American Pressed Glass, 20 x 20 x 4.5 in

Do you make commission using pieces from clients own collations or pieces the evoke memories for them?

Occasionally I will use client’s pieces. I did a piece reworking a wedding gift for a client’s 40th wedding anniversary.

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Wedding Comport in Colony Harvest Glass,

Flamework and Hot-sculptured American Pressed Glass, 12 x 9 x 6in

Colour and the importance in your work, discuss.

Color is very important as I discussed above about where I get my glass. But, I like doing research on the history of the colors. I made a large piece about Peach Blow Glass which has a rich history starting with the Morgan Vase.  I like to find a color at the cullet yard and then research the history on it.

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Burmese Dream, Glass and Mixed Media,

Flamework, Fused American Pressed Glass, 21.5 x 29 x 8in

Are there definite colour treads that you have become aware of while

Peach Blow and Burmese glass were very popular at a certain point in history. They were popularized by the sale of the Morgan Vase at an auction in 1886. The vase was actually porcelain but it started a craze for that particular color scheme (pink to yellow or pink to white) It was so popular that women fashions, a town in Colorado and even a cocktail was named after Peach Blow. 

Within on piece how many decades would be represented?

That is hard to tell and is different with each piece. I have gotten more interested in the molds lately and my new project involves recreating some molds. For example, I had a small milk glass hand 3-D scanned and then milled in graphite so that I can recreate the piece.  A lot of times molds were passed from factory to factory and it can be hard to trace. But, some of them were from the late 1800’s

You must have also learnt so much about Pressed Glass.  How is this knowledge being used?  E.g. lecturing on this topic.

I use some of the information in my lectures and when I teach. I consider myself knowledgeable but not an expert.

When is a piece too important to be recycled?

I save special pieces for the right time. Sometimes a piece can be on my shelf for a while before I use it and sometimes I am searching for pieces that I want to fit a specific color or size.

Comment on the dimensions of your work?

I like to make big sculpture. But, weight, shipping, and handling by a gallery crew can make that difficult.

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Very simply explain the technique you use to produce a piece.

I am primarily a flame worker. I heat up the glass in a kiln and melt it and shape it with a torch. I use tools such as tweezers and bonsai shears.

I am also trained as a traditional glassblower and use those techniques to create some of the “reconstructed” pieces. I also do some kiln fusing.


Contact details.

Amber Cowan

 Amber Cowan, Philadelphia, USA

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, June, 2016