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Oct, 01, 2006
Martha's Vineyard Magazine
A SEPARATE PIECE
written by Shelley Christiansen

Martha's Vineyard magazine article pictureAmid the subtle beauty of the woolens, woodwork, and earthenware that adorn the Vineyard Artisans Festival, Jeri Dantzig’s works in glass gleam as brightly as holiday ornaments. Her tableware shines in summery yellows and blues, in Asian-inspired red and black, in tri-colored squares on squares, in handsomely iridescent
herringbone, and with festive splashes of confetti encased in clear, bubbly glass. Polka dots add whimsy to mirror frames, hair clips, and stylized barracuda hangings. Square little receptacles beg for a dollop of mango chutneyvor a spoonful of potpourri. Trays with undulating compartments stand ready to organize jewelry. Or maybe jelly beans.

“I’m really into multi-tasking,” says the glassworker. And besides: The more options she shows people, the more they tend to buy. Her creations have clean, geometric lines and bold colors reminiscent of Scandinavian design. “I’m not a fussy person,” says Dantzig. And even if her works fail to dazzle some people with their brilliance, they baffle them with their science. For most of the decoration isn’t on her works; it’s inside them.

“I’ve got to ask you how you get these pieces together,” said one shopper in August, holding a deeply red platter with an abstract black-and-white rectangle embedded seamlessly in the middle.
With a grin, Dantzig launched into Glass Fusion 101. She loves it when people touch the goods. Her cheeriness belies the fact that she’s presented this crash course time and again.
Blown glass, fused glass, and stained glass are known in the field as hot, warm, and cold glass, respectively. Of the three disciplines, fusion is probably the least understood by the public. Yet it’s an ancient technique, and after a period of obscurity, it underwent a revival in the mid-twentieth century. Notwithstanding jargon like dichroic and devitrification, fused glass is comparable to a grilled cheese sandwich: various hues and textures of glass squares, strips, strings, confetti, polka dots, and so on, are arranged on a glass base and gently melted in a kiln. A layer of translucent glass is then placed over the design, and the work is returned to the kiln, where it “slumps” into a ceramic mold to create a uniform plate, platter, bowl, coaster, tray, table top, or decorative item. At 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, fusion can take as long as twenty-four hours, depending on the thickness of the work.

Though her creations look like the seasoned work of a longtime practitioner, Dantzig’s been in the trade a mere four years, minus a timeout when her mother died. Previously, she and her husband had been the busy owners and operators of Stripers, a popular Vineyard Haven eatery in the 1990s. Glassmaking was a part-time hobby for her. She first studied glassmaking, stained and fused, during off-seasons in New York City. “Nothing surpasses the tone and the richness of glass,” she says. “It’s very sensuous.” After retiring from both the restaurant business and marriage, Dantzig furthered her fusion studies at the Corning Museum of Glass in upstate
New York and became a full-time Islander and fuser. Transitioning from restaurateur to tableware maker was “a natural” for her. Dantzig gave up stained glass to focus strictly on fusion, which gives her more options for “playing and mixing.” Lately, she’s been into pattern bars – thickly fused chunks of multiple colors that she saws into abstract slices for use as belt buckles, for example. “They’re like Rorschach tests.” She particularly favors the slices that look like Minotaur faces.

Dantzig’s first workshop was awkwardly sited in the attic of her Tisbury home. “I had to bring work up and down the steps all the time,” she recalls. “I’m surprised I didn’t fall.” Today, she works downstairs in an airy, ground-level studio that was once her husband’s boatbuilding shop, complete with double
doors and a soaring ceiling. It gives her room aplenty for work tables, a wet diamond-saw, a belt sander, a sand blaster, an electric kiln, heavy crates of glass, large sound-system speakers, and even a private lounge for her chocolate Labrador Nina (named after Nina Simone). To take the edge off her electricity bills, she installed solar panels. Lavish perennials outside the doorway counterbalance the machismo of the interior, where the diminutive artisan often commands formidable, screeching equipment.

About three times a year, Dantzig orders as much as 500 pounds of glass from an Oregon manufacturer who makes a uniquely shatter-resistant product expressly for fusing. To cut shipment costs, she travels off-Island with a pickup truck to rendezvous with a distributor’s truck that comes from New Jersey. She also trucks her wares to thirty shows a season, but only on-Island so far. She claims to have strong arms, a strong back, and a strong brother Stephen – “my roadie.” The Belushi Pisano Gallery in Tisbury carries some of her works as well. She may try selling at more shops in the future.

Dantzig’s most popular sales items are her cheese and sushi boards and fish hangings. (Perhaps the worst-kept secret among Vineyard artisans is the easy market for fish motifs.) The most popular color is “red, red, and red.” Many customers buy Dantzig’s works as wedding gifts. She’s thrilled with the amount of repeat business, as people complete sets of tableware. It’s safe to use with food, and it’s dishwasher-safe to boot. She’s shipped items as far as Europe, South Africa, and Hawaii: “Nothing has broken yet.” She also crafted the glass sign for the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center.

Although it’s a challenge for Dantzig to keep up her inventory with seasonal demand, she managed to treat herself to a vacation this summer – a half-day excursion to the beach. During the off-season, perhaps she’ll find time to populate her new website – www.dantzigglass.com – with a catalogue of her wares. She’ll also follow her latest whims in fusion, such as her better-than-stained-glass windows and some abstract, three-dimensional sculptures. She’s also experimenting with gingerbread cottage designs, which may entice a few homeowners to commission custom portraits. By spring, there’s no telling what other improvisations may come from the Dantzig kiln to add luster to the next round of shows.

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