Art of Craft is a series about specialists whose work rises to the level of art.
Glass blowing, it turned out, was where Deborah Czeresko found a craft that engaged her whole body. After college, Czeresko tried out graphic design (“really boring”) before realizing she needed something that would energize her on a holistic level. She found the solution in a class at the New York Experimental Glass Workshop, now known as UrbanGlass: Glass blowing, she learned, required grip strength, endurance and balance.
“It’s like a sport out there, in that it is physical, and it’s moving all the time,” said Czeresko. “So the knowledge was taken in through my body and came out through my body.”
After honing her craft, Czeresko exhibited her work at the Corning Museum of Glass and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, including a permanent exhibit at the latter. (Her most commercially recognizable work, a piece crafted to look like a fried egg, sells for $195.)
She then enjoyed a star turn in 2019, after winning the Netflix competition show “Blown Away,” during which she experienced some backlash for her self-described “polarizing” personality: She acknowledges a frankness about the expanding role of queer women like herself in a male-dominated space. “The time has come to claim that space,” Czeresko said. “Because we’ve been here all along.” She took home a $60,000 prize for winning the series, and the exposure allowed her to elevate her work to the next level, she said.
The process is intense on another level: By the time Czeresko is cupping the molten glass, it is at about 2,000 degrees. She then rolls it over pieces of frit, or broken-up glass, to add additional color.
Every piece of glass is meaningful. After Czeresko uses diamond shears to pull the glass, giving the mushroom-shaped object an “organic” look, she snips off a piece that was attached to the iron rod that had been used to assemble the piece. “Waste glass,” she called it. “A sacrifice in the process.”
Her latest show, “Fruiting Bodies — Creatures of Culture,” on view at the Hannah Traore Gallery, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, through May 27, features a forest floor consisting of 1,200 pounds of glass “soil” full of hand-sculpted mushrooms, fruiting bodies, decaying leaves and neon mycelium. The installation is meant to evoke L.G.B.T.Q. culture.
Glass “is nonbinary on a molecular level because it is a super cooled liquid that has the physical properties of both a liquid and solid,” Czeresko. “Even when cooled and solid, the molecules are constantly moving, similarly to a liquid. As a compound, it exists in multiple states.”