By Doris Faltys
It is a lovely warm, picture perfect day for my visit with Kim Merriman, fused glass and metal artist. We sit on her deck looking out over the water towards Mount Rainier. An American goldfinch drinks at the bird bath below. An eagle flies over the water. A humming bird comes to the feeder close by where we sit. Merriman agrees with me that this is an amazing place for wildlife and adds, “We had whales here not long ago, Orca whales. They were feeding on seals.” She adds, “I get most of my inspiration from the natural world around me.”
Merriman tells me that in addition to her metal and glass wall art, she has been branching out with functional art glass, making plates, platters, bowls, and small serving dishes. These are items she has made over the years, but mostly for gifts. She had never focused on selling these items in a retail market. Now, this aspect of Merriman’s business has been expanding.
Merriman talks with excitement about having her work currently offered at The Museum of Glass in Tacoma. “It was about 18 months ago,” Merriman says. “I received a call from the purchaser wondering if I was interested in having my work represented and for sale at their gift shop. A fan had written to The Museum of Glass suggesting that they consider my work for possible inclusion in their shop. I don’t know who wrote the letter.”
At the initial meeting, the purchaser chose about twelve of her pieces. “They were the most functional of what I brought,” explains Merriman. “Every few months they sell about a dozen of my pieces.”
“There are a number of reasons why they have chosen to sell my work,” she explains. “I am a local Washington artist. My work is not in the Chihuly ‘blown glass’ tradition. My designs are not typical of the glass that is being produced by other artists they carry. Each of my pieces is different; no two are alike.” She adds with emotion, “It is such an honor. I feel so blessed.”
Many clients find Merriman through her website. “I was recently commissioned by a client in Alabama to make a dinnerware set. We are working to finalize the colors and design. The design will be the same for each place setting,” she explains, “but the color combinations for each will be different.”
Merriman has also been commissioned by many people to make customized gifts for weddings, and other special occasions.
In her studio, the artist talks about the process she uses for making her functional ware. “To obtain the desired effect, I fire my work three times. The first and hottest firing is a full fusing.” While Merriman talks, she places some blue glass cut and designed to fit the bottom and top of a clear glass sheet that is on her work table. “After the first firing, these blue pieces will be fully fused to the clear glass. Meaning, when you move your finger over the surface it will be smooth. There will only be a slight surface difference where the new glass has been added.”
The next step Merriman describes is to add some smaller cut pieces for texture and to broaden the color scheme. “The second firing I call a tack fuse,” shares Merriman. “The kiln is fired at a lower temperature so these smaller pieces will not fully melt. They will retain their chunky shapes. This gives the piece the texture I want.”
“The third or last firing is the slumping, and done at the lowest temperature.” Merriman shows me the kiln open with the slumping molds inside. She explains that because of the temperature differences that occur in different parts of her small kiln she can only fire one shelf at a time. Otherwise there would be inconsistencies in the surface of her products.
Many factors go into successfully creating her products. “Some glass is simply not fusible,” she says. “Glass needs to be the same Coefficient of Expansion (COE) or the glass will ultimately break. You cannot mix a COE of 90 with a COE of 96 (specs from the factories) because they heat and cool at different temperatures. When they do that, they ‘pull’ on one another and stress the glass until the pressure starts to crack, eventually shattering it all the way.”
She continues, “I know this from experience. I did a test because I didn’t believe it. The piece I made did exactly what I was told it would do. At first, there was a single ‘ping.’ Then another. Then another. Until by the end of the day, the entire piece of glass looked like puzzle pieces.”
It is obvious that Merriman has spent a lot of time learning her art, perfecting her personal fusing style and designs.
She shows me a piece of correspondence.
“This is an email I received recently from one of my prospective metal and glass wall art clients. His idea was sort of outside his budget. So, options were to revise the proposal, or do it in stages. Here’s his response:
I’d rather wait and save; your work is way too ‘wow’ to skimp on. I know I’d only regret it. I’ll keep you posted as to how things go, if everything works out this month then I’ll let you know asap, if it takes a little longer I’ll let you know also. I’m determined to make this happen, your pieces are totally amazing and are a concept I’ve been looking for a long time. The fusion of such vivid colour in glass on metal is perfection. There’s nothing equivalent that caught my attention that I’ve seen out there so I’m determined to do this right because they’ll be something that I’ll treasure.
Merriman is known for her personal commitment to her clients and the warm rapport that develops through her attention to their requests. Her work has recently been shipped to clients in Miami, New York City, Ireland, North Carolina, and Chicago. She was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, and makes Olympia, Washington her home.
For the story of how she became interested in glass fusing, see the June 2012 ThurstonTalk article A Visit with Kim Merriman.
“My art expresses the gratitude I have for living in a place where I witness such beauty – land, sky, water and the scenes and wildlife from each. I don’t take a second for granted,” she summarizes.