It takes a few minutes to really take in all that’s going on at Astral Glass. It goes a step or two beyond the usual artist’s refuge for solitary work to feel more like a small factory or research lab — with a gift shop.
Color and texture are everywhere, in bins, on shelves and trolleys, in jars and trays, in the artwork and inspirational art objects crowding walls and tables, and clearly in the mind of Cindi Shaffer.
I’ve been acquainted with Cindi and her husband Joe for a few years, and I think I’ve yet to see her without a huge smile on her face. This is a person freely doing what she loves, with people she loves, and it comes through clearly in talking with her. “I like showing people what I do, and I obviously like talking about this.”
Much like oil painting, the work is typically deeply layered, with colors, shapes and textures blending, moving, informing and transforming one another in frozen liquid dance. Skilled wood and metalwork elevates many sculptural and functional pieces, extending and expanding the designs. Scale ranges from tiny earrings to architectural pieces that can command a room or outdoor space, all speaking boldly of the relentless pursuit of ideas, exploration and fun among the artists working here.
As Cindi talks about how she creates in glass, it becomes clear that understanding the science is as fundamental to her skill set as the ability to envision what she wants to create, taking advantage of the very specific and arcane properties of the materials to produce results that she won’t see till it’s birthed by fire in the kiln.
“It’s all in what temperature you use and how you do it. There’s a ton of physics and chemistry involved in glass.”
“We start with the base. If we take it to what we consider a full fuse, it wants to be a quarter of an inch thick. If you want it to be textural, you take it to a lower temperature so that it can’t even itself out.”
“Think about honey, a drop of honey when it hits the table. It rounds into a ball. I can take a square of glass, put it in at a certain temperature and make it turn into a ball. It’s a viscosity thing. And the different colors have different viscosities, just to make it that much more fun; transparent acts different than opaque. It’s like working with a puzzle. But in general after all these years I generally get what I think I’m gonna get.”
“I just find it super challenging to try to make my ideas happen in a medium that’s sort of technical and has parameters — there are certain things you can’t get away with. So how do I get away with what I want?”
“One of the things that we do that’s a little different from a lot of places is I make a lot of components,” shaping and forming the colors and textures into a palette of parts to draw on for larger and more complex pieces. “Often if you just make it, then you find a place for it, right? It makes sense if the colors are good. As I get further along into it, then I’m like, ‘there’s something that I want to make.’ You need to play to your learning. You’re learning how to control the material.”
When we think of art glass we usually imagine glass-blowing, but Cindi points out that crucial differences in the makeup of the materials divide the disciplines of “hot” and “warm” glass, with quite different techniques and results.
“Hot glass and warm glass are such different animals,” says Cindi, “and this is where I can geek out on you. So you always wonder why they don’t recycle glass more. It’s really difficult to recycle, because all glass is not created equal.” The most important difference is coefficient of expansion. “Most blowers use 96 CoE, and this line of glass is 90 CoE, which is harder than 96, so it’s more difficult to use in a blowing situation. When you see someone with a torch making cute little animals or beads, that’s 104, even softer. Window glass is about 88. The reason that you can take your Corningware in and out of your oven is because the CoE of that is 32, very hard, so it doesn’t expand and contract as much as my glass. If you put any of those together and try to fuse them, they will break each other, because the recipe is not the same and when they cool the molecular structures don’t make nice with each other.”
Hobby to profession
As with many local artists, Cindi’s path to this point has been long and a little twisty.
“I grew up in San Antonio, Texas. My mom and my aunt were phenomenal seamstresses, my aunt owned a fabric store, and I did all sorts of crafts and quilts and that kind of stuff when I was growing up. If you look at the glass, it’s a pieced medium, very similar to working with fabrics, just a little bit more complicated to accomplish what you’re after.” As a career “I owned a court-reporting firm, doing depositions. Court reporting is complicated, too — you have to be listening to people talk, translating it into a code, and then you have to have the manual dexterity to be able to keep up with them, then translate it to the computer for live feeds. Some people can do it and some can’t — there’s a 90% dropout rate in school. So that has a lot of layers, you know, all this stuff is about layers, and (glass) is a layer on top of court reporting.”
She came to glass as a hobby. “I was just really drawn to color and stained glass. When I was still working I started doing stained-glass classes in the evening.
Life changes brought the Shaffers to Prescott. “We were living in Houston, and we were both selling our companies and retiring. I was 40, Joe’s a little older, and he started taking flying lessons. He came to Prescott to get his instrument rating, and fell in love with it. We started coming to visit. I sold my firm in 1997 and we moved here in 2000.”
Yavapai College proved a good place to get started on a new path. “In 2000 I took a fusing class here, and I never went back to stained glass. I took jewelry classes with Chelsea Stone, then printmaking classes, but I always came back to the glass.”
She began showing her work in 2008, and never stopped learning and exploring. “I started taking classes at other studios and from master artists. A nice thing about the pandemic is that a lot of classes went virtual, so I’ve had opportunities to do some some Zoom classes with people who are internationally known,” including currently with Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata.
“I think that you just grow naturally, and this is a really welcoming art community, people are very encouraging.”
Cindi does her part to share the knowledge and build that community. Working with her at Astral Glass are Ron Miller, who’s taken on the sculptural metal work in the adjacent metals studio, and Alison Heavirland, who assists with glass and is an artist in her own right, and has taken over the studio’s jewelry operations. Says Cindi, “I’ve been really lucky to find a situation that works for us, so that I can give it away. It’s good, passing it on, absolutely.
Astral Glass is also reliably open for the annual Prescott Studio Tour, where Cindi helps with organizing, grants and liaison with the City. “The studio tour is a wonderful resource, I think for the community overall. It’s a wonderful way for the artists to be able to get feedback from people, and it’s fun to see people year after year coming to visit to see what you’re doing this year. I think for this size town it just gives people a different perspective on what’s here, you know, that it’s not just Whiskey Row.”
“So you keep finding new challenges in your medium, right? I love to learn, I really do. I think it keeps you young. I think it keeps you interested in life.”
You can find Astral Glass Studio in the Art on 6th complex at 697 6th Street in Prescott. Info at astralglassstudio.com or 928-379-5986.