Leah Waldo had just completed a degree in culinary arts and hotel and restaurant management. The only problem was that she didn’t want to be in hotel and restaurant management anymore. “I wasn’t super set out to be in the kitchen,” she says. “I wanted to make art that is more lasting. I know everything is impermanent, but I wanted to make something that lasts longer than … a dish.”
She took a class at Baron Glassworks in Ypsilanti on a lark and started apprenticing there before deciding to pursue the art form as a career, enrolling in the College for Creative Studies, where she’s now about to enter her senior year.
Sure, there are some superficial similarities between working with glass and cooking — you have to use heat for both. But for Waldo there’s really nothing like blowing glass. “It’s such a fascinating medium,” she says. “It’s like a living thing that you have to work with. I’ve always been really intrigued by it.”
Waldo moved away from blowing glass, instead utilizing a method called glass casting, in which molds are made out of plaster and silica. The molds are then filled with casting rocks, which melt together in the kiln. Waldo likes to melt the rocks so they just begin to fuse and clump together, a technique she arrived at by experimenting with different casting cycles. “I don’t want it to be completely melted into a solid mass,” she says. “By trial and error, I was able to find out how to achieve the texture that I wanted.” Achieving different textures is important to Waldo, who incorporates her cast glass into ceramic bases, creating a juxtaposition between the two materials.
“All my work is based on the idea of introspection and contemplation,” she says. “I really like how the cast glass gives this delicate feel — the clay component represents the exterior self, and the glass represents the interior self.” Waldo often uses casting rocks that have a blue hue contrasted against warmer-hued and rougher-looking bases.
For now, Waldo’s getting ready to head off to Seattle, having scored a scholarship for a two-week class at the Pilchuck Glass School that will teach her how to incorporate new digital techniques into her art. “There’s designs and techniques to alter the surface of the glass digitally, like printing on it,” she says. “It’s not something that I have a great proficiency in, so I’m really interested in what I can take away.”
So far Waldo has exhibited at CCS’ annual student show, the Detroit Artists Market, and a glass collectors show in Chicago. “It’s something that I’m really passionate about, and I’m grateful to be able to define — at least a little bit more — my path in it,” she says. “It’s such a good feeling to figure out what your path is.”