Visions of Nature, Set in Glass
From her Glass Mermaid studio on Spar Cove in Freeport, glass artist Lisa Blanchard gains inspiration from the pine trees just outside the door and from the water’s edge a few steps way. In the spring, she paddles out from the dock to look for horseshoe crabs. She has always been drawn to explore the natural world, where, she says, “I am curious about everything. Whatever is in front of me, I want to know about,” Lisa said.
A ninth-generation Mainer, Lisa grew up along the Piscataqua River, one of four children of a plumber and a stay-at-home mom. She recalls her time growing up as being a perfect childhood. She spent much of her time, “mucking around boats.” Lisa remembers doing a lot of drawing from an early age, often while sitting on a boat. She liked drawing boats, attracted by what she saw as their beautiful lines. Lines and marks are how Lisa views the world and her artistic practice.
Foreshadowing her career as a glass artist, one of Lisa’s vivid childhood memories was holding an antique hand-blown light blue vase that had been handed down through the generations in her family. The girl was drawn to the smoothness of the vase’s surface and the glass’ translucent qualities. The glass object’s beauty left an indelible impression on her.
When Lisa was in high school, she would occasionally skip school in order to go sailing by herself. So, upon graduation, it seemed natural for her to attend the Maine Maritime Academy, a college based in Castine that focuses on maritime training. At that time, the 17-year-old thought she wanted to work in some area of commercial shipping.
Although that career path didn’t pan out, Lisa met her future husband Tom while sailing at the academy. Lisa continued her maritime education in the Yacht Design program at the Landing Boat School in Arundel. Tom’s work in commercial shipping landed the family oversees in Norway, Alaska, and Texas, before the couple returned to Maine to settle permanently. Their children Laura and Noah also attended the Maritime Academy and have extensive experience with boats. Laura works in several capacities with boats, and Noah is a tugboat captain in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
One of the places Lisa and Tom lived was Valdez, Alaska. Once a Gold Rush town, Valdez is located on a fjord of Prince William Sound. The town was the site of catastrophic damage following an earthquake in 1964 and then an oil tanker spill in 1989. It is now a major fishing and shipping port in the state. During their time there, Lisa operated a shop from which she sold her glass creations and taught glass making. Her passion for glass and her talent for teaching had a lasting impact on people in the small town. When it was time for the Blanchards to move again, a former student bought the business from Lisa before the departure, and a number of others made major investments in equipment so they could continue making glass art. Reflecting on that positive time, Lisa says, “I felt great when I left, as I felt I had inspired others.”
Lisa and Tom’s first home in Maine, in Kennebunkport, was completely off the grid. It had a little windmill and was built on an old quarry. The six tons of rock below the house’s foundation could store up to five days of heat. Today, her home in Spar Cove lacks a windmill and quarry base, but it does have solar panels, chickens, boats, and a studio where she creates and teaches glass art. There, it’s always “sunny side up,” since she created a glass window of a large orange and yellow sunrise to go in the chickens’ house.
The level of her craftsmanship and creativity and her love of nature are apparent in a piece she created last year for a 2020 virtual fundraiser. The event was in support of Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment, in Freeport. Her work, Edge of the Sea, is an 18-by-20-inch piece that incorporates images of horseshoe crabs, shorebirds, seaweed, and quotations from marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson. Lisa custom-made all the components, some five layers thick. Each element in the piece showcases a variety of glass-making techniques.
As a glass artist. Lisa misses pre-COVID times when she could visit person-to-person and hold classes in her studio. Lisa likes to teach and especially to help people get beyond the notion that they’re not artistic. When people express such self-doubting sentiments, Lisa responds with the practical viewpoint that “anything a person does takes practice to do well, whether it’s playing the piano or shooting a foul shot.”
Lisa is a distant relative of botanist Catherine ‘Kate’ Furbish (1834–1931). Kate Furbish was absorbed in plants—collecting, preserving, drawing, painting a prodigious number of plants, and discovering some new ones. These specimens and Kate Furbish’s paintings of them are archived in institutions across Maine. Her legacy has been memorialized in the scientific names of several plants, the 591-acre Kate Furbish Preserve in Brunswick, and the new Kate Furbish Elementary School, which opened in fall, 2020, also in Brunswick.
Like her well-regarded Maine relative, Lisa is independent and drawn to the outdoors. Lisa follows her own path, exploring, observing, and enjoying a flow of ideas that continually tumble forth. One of her next projects involves glass fish floats she’s collected during past travels. Her vision is for a boat filled with lights and glass floats that will light the breakfast bar in her kitchen. She continues to find beauty in the lines she sees in boats and finds in nature. Those lines have sustained her through difficult times, such as the lengthy fight her husband Tom waged against cancer. Lisa and Tom had been married 34 years when he died in 2017.
Having lived in various places and being part-sailor at heart, Lisa has wanderlust to see and learn new things. She’s looking forward to traveling to faraway places, such as the fjords of Chile. Until these plans and dreams can be realized, Lisa creates inspiring new visions with glass and light—distinctive beauty to gaze upon.
For more information about Lisa Blanchard’s work, classes, and Glass Mermaid Studio, please go to www.glassmermaidstudio.com. Also, Lisa discusses her craft on the Women Mind the Water Podcast, Episode 8, at www.womenmindthewater.com