Eric Baker uses kiln-formed glass and steel to create lifelike nature-inspired sculptures.
Tulsa artist Eric Baker has an unusual creative passion — working with heat, metal and glass. But it took him 13 years, college, two different jobs in unrelated fields and an advertisement in a magazine to find it.
Since 2002, Baker has been honing his craft in kiln-forming glass, creating branches and glass leaves and petals that are dead ringers for the real thing.
Although most of Baker’s work is displayed in private collections, one of his public pieces, “Golden Bliss,” is on view at East 26th Street and South Zunis Avenue.
TulsaPeople recently caught up with Baker as he was putting the final touches on his first exhibit, opening this fall at Joseph Gierek Fine Arts Gallery on Cherry Street, in his EbbingNight Studio in Owasso.
What first spurred your interest in working with glass?
When I was 17 years old, I knew that I wanted to be an artist. But the twists and turns of life prevented me from that pursuit for another 13 years. Finally, at the start of 2002, a circumstance that I was faced with by my employer forced me to reevaluate my life’s direction. … So I resigned from my job and set about finding a life full of meaning while pursuing art.
Originally, I had intended to be a watercolorist. So I spent a few months in early 2002 creating very simple collage sculptures with layers of watercolor-painted paper. They were fun, and I enjoyed the process, but a chance encounter in May of that year completely altered my outlook.
In a local publication, I stumbled across an advertisement that offered lessons for glassblowing at a local studio. I took a class, fell in love with the combination of heat and manipulating glass, and became addicted to all things glass. Even though I didn’t remain a glassblower (though I plan to return to blowing at some point), those early lessons led me to discover the process of kiln-forming glass. Kiln-forming was a perfect match for my personality, with its longer, slower methodology (compared with the often quick and intense glassblowing), so I set out to combine kiln-formed glass with steel to create sculpture.
Approximately how many sculptures have you created so far, and how long does it take to complete one object?
Well, I’ve got two different bodies of work. Both of these utilize steel and glass combined, with the steel providing the main body, structure and visual weight of the piece. The glass is used as the counterpoint to the heavy feel of the steel or sometimes as just a focal point. Often, I use the glass to represent the bloom, or flower, of the sculpture.
So the first body of work is fairly abstract and is based primarily on marine and botanical life. They vary tremendously in size, design and shape. Of those, I have made a few dozen, and usually they take from a few days up to a few weeks to create.
My second body of work consists of sylvan sculpture. That is, sculpture based on trees. I’m currently laboring on my 13th tree. The sylvan pieces are complicated endeavors. They consist of trunks and branches made of steel, and their leaves are made of glass. Each tree takes several months to complete on average, though some colors are much more difficult to work with and can take much longer.
While I enjoy both styles of working, the sylvan sculptures are currently my favorite to attempt. They provide many more challenges, and even though the process is grueling, I find the end result very rewarding.
Do you have a favorite object that you have sculpted?
To date, my most rewarding project was the series of four trees that are on permanent display at the Philbrook Museum (of Art), titled “Oklahoma Autumn.” That series contains the very first life-sized tree that I attempted after two small prototypes. To see the larger trees come to life during that time period has been a special privilege for me as an artist.
What is the largest item you have sculpted? The most difficult?
The trees are currently the largest of my works. They usually stand 10-13 feet in height, are somewhere between 10-12 feet in width and are 8-10 feet in depth. They are by far the most complicated works that I create. They provide many, many difficulties during the process — from the heavy manual labor during the bending, welding and grinding of the steel to create the trunk and branches to the chemistry knowledge and problem-solving during the kiln-forming of the leaves.
The leaves start as basic sheets of glass, get melted and mixed, sandblasted, drilled and ground, then finally shaped into their final forms through multiple high-temperature firings (as high as 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit) in large electric kilns. The process is both scintillating and excruciatingly tedious at times but provides great satisfaction for me when it is all finished.
This article appears in the July 2012 issue of TulsaPeople