Pâte de verre has propelled Patty Roberts to new heights.
When Patty Roberts showed her sculptural pâte de verre glasswork last year at La Quinta Arts Festival in California, she had no idea what to expect.
“I was so nervous because it was a new medium for me. I started with about 35 pieces and had so few left that I had to cancel the show I was doing the next weekend. It was just stunning and really exciting,” says Roberts, who lives in Marysville, Washington, about 40 miles north of Seattle. “People told me they’ve never seen anything like it.”
The technique of pâte de verre – literally, “glass paste” in French – was popularized in France in the 19th century. The process begins with creating a model – of clay in Roberts’ case – making a mold, and layering it with crushed glass before firing it in a kiln. The work comes out rough, looking like ice stuck to the bottom of a freezer, and is polished to whatever texture is desired. With that foundation, Roberts creates richly hued pieces that she embellishes with copper.
Decades of work in color and materials inform her pâte de verre creations. She has drawn all her life, moving from painting to printmaking to encaustics. In the 1990s, Roberts started a framing and gallery business that she later sold to a national chain. The following decade she made embossed fused-glass home and garden furnishings. Her husband, Larry Roberts, learned welding to create metal bases for her fused-glass work, and later became a full-time metal sculptor. They now enjoy sharing the festival circuit.
Roberts came to pâte de verre by happenstance, admiring glass vessels online, particularly the work of Alicia Lomné.
“I love glass in general, and the medium was so different from what I’d seen before. I usually try things first myself, but in this case I realized I needed a class,” says Roberts, who ended up learning the basics from Lomné herself in 2012 at a weeklong workshop at Bullseye Glass Co. in Portland, Oregon.
“We learned the basics, and Alicia also showed us how to include other pieces of glass in the work, something she does. But I wanted to create something that was all my own, and since metal is part of my world, that felt natural to use,” she says. “It gives a sense of something old, but also contemporary. I use all copper, and when it goes through the kiln, it oxidizes, and that adds to the effect. I think some of the pieces could almost look like something dug out of a ruin, but at the same time they look great in your living room.”
Achieving anything even presentable, much less worthy of the two festival awards she received in 2014, took close to two years, Roberts says.
“After Bullseye, I spent about a year and a half ruining every piece I made. I kept trying to go large, and I didn’t know how to pack the glass so it wouldn’t slide down the mold. There was a lot of trial and error. The color was a whole other challenge, sifting crushed glass in for different shades and surface colors.”
When the festival acceptances poured in, she knew her months of “spectacular disasters” had paid off.
“Some of the shows I’d been doing with encaustics were mid-range ones. With this work, all of a sudden all the doors were open. It’s been an incredible whirlwind.”
Roberts’ work continues to grow, in size and sophistication. “I’m planning on joining some pieces together to get larger work, incorporating sections of metal and cast glass. The combinations are pretty much unlimited. I feel like I’m just kind of blooming – I could run with it forever.”
Patty Roberts will be at the Des Moines Arts Festival (June 26 – 28) and Denver’s Cherry Creek Arts Festival (July 3 – 5).
Diane Daniel is a writer based in the Netherlands and Florida.