An artist’s one-of-a-kind, nature-inspired pieces brighten up homes and gardens

As someone who has always been fascinated by glass, Kristin Quackenbush knew she wanted to work with it in some capacity.
Kristin Quackenbush in her studio
Photo by Nikki Hansen

As someone who has always been fascinated by glass, Kristin Quackenbush knew she wanted to work with it in some capacity.

Throughout both her education and her life, she’s experimented with different mediums, but glass was the most intriguing. When she moved back to Wisconsin after going to school in South Dakota to get certified to teach art (she earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin–Madison), she started by taking a glass bead-making course in Racine.

That was her first true introduction to the medium, but it wasn’t until she moved to Sun Prairie that she took a glass-fusing class at the now-closed The Vinery Stained Glass Studio. Now she has been fusing glass for about 17 years.

Unlike glass blowing, which involves a furnace and molten glass, glass fusing involves “cold” glass that gets fired in a kiln.

“It’s something manageable in a home as opposed to needing to have a furnace facility for blown glass,” Quackenbush says.

Most pieces start with a base of clear glass that acts like a canvas. From there, Quackenbush uses pieces of glass that have been cut with mosaic nippers along with frit (ground-up glass) to create a design. Using glass glue, she secures the pieces and will add more layers of clear sheet glass and additional pieces of frit and glass. After the design is set, it goes into the kiln, where all the layers melt together to form one unified piece of art.

three pieces of art in her studio

Photo by Nikki Hansen

Quackenbush compares the process to making panini: clear glass acts like the bread on the bottom and top with colorful glass and frit acting like filling and garnishes, then the full creation is baked. All the processes are done in her home, and she has a kiln in her garage. Prior to owning her own kiln, she would put everything together at home and transport it to The Vinery to fuse.

“I get to play with transparency and opacity within layers of glass, as well as with broken bits of glass that should be dangerous but, when handled correctly, are not,” Quackenbush says.

While she may try to do certain pieces similarly, no two glass pieces will look perfectly identical because of changes in the design or firing processes. Regardless of how many of her most popular sunflower pieces she puts together, each one ends up unique.

“People often ask how long it takes to make a piece, and there is not an easy answer,” Quackenbush says.

Quackenbush is inspired by nature, and it can be found in almost all of her creations, primarily in the form of trees, flowers and landscapes. It’s also a fitting theme, as she makes pieces for the home and garden, including garden stakes — her mom, mom’s friend and sister will help create the copper frames for those projects. In addition to nature, Quackenbush is also inspired by symmetry in design.

She loves creating things that people will display in their homes, as she feels honored people choose to invest in her art that they will see daily. For her, glass is the perfect medium for bright colors, since they will never fade.

“There are some moments when people come into my booth at an art fair with their mouths hanging open,” Quackenbush says. “I will always ask them if they love color, too, and they always say, ‘Yes!’ I think colorful glass art draws them in like it does to me because it brings us joy.”

As an artist who primarily sells at art fairs, Quackenbush has had many experiences at local fairs, but last year’s Art Fair off the Square — the annual July event on Martin Luther King Boulevard —was an anomaly. It was the first art fair in over a year in the Madison area, and things got busy. She sold more than ever before and needed to make a lot more products for her following summer shows.

It was at one of these art shows that she met the director of University of the Wisconsin–Whitewater’s student center who helped her secure a solo showcase. Subsequently, the director offered Quackenbush the opportunity to design a 25- to 30-foot-long piece for the university. Quackenbush ultimately worked with two other artists (one specializing in watercolors and the other mixed media/collage) and an artist collective, Pastel Society, to share the responsibility of creating a permanent piece on campus.

“That’s one of those things that I think most artists would feel like [is] a really great lifetime achievement, to have something on permanent display somewhere,” Quackenbush says.

Find KristinQGlassArt: kristinqglassart.com, @KristinQglassart

Maija Inveiss is an associate editor of Madison Magazine.