Debra Arend made her way to Bainbridge Island in 2009 from St. Louis, Missouri where she ran (and still remotely runs) her business, Natural Results. She was only living on the island part-time, but when she met and fell in love with her husband, local real estate agent, Kevin DeLashmutt she made the island her permanent home in 2018. As an avid traveler and lover of art, making the fulltime transition to Bainbridge and its creative community was an easy move.
Since childhood, one of her favorite forms of art was glass. Exposure to glass art came early for Debra. She grew up in Toledo, Ohio during the city’s “Glass Capital of the World” era, in addition, her father worked for a short time as a graphic artist for Libby Glassware. Debra frequently sought out other artists and galleries in her travels both in the U.S. and abroad, which in part, inspired her to take a Fused Glass class at Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network (BARN) in 2018, and she was immediately hooked.
The process of creating Fused Glass pieces takes a bit of blending science with artistic techniques. Using this knowledge, Debra creates pieces ranging from functional plates, platters, bowls, vases, as well as decorative items, sculptures, and wearable art. Much of her process involves layering cut pieces of glass to create a design, then cutting, sanding, refiring and polishing. She usually works with Bullseye glass sheets, which she fuses together to create a variety of new colors and dichroic glass (a special coated glass) for her wearable art. In addition to new pieces, she uses upcycled glass, such as old shower doors and float glass (glass from old windows) to create decorative bowls with silver leafing that resemble icebergs and votives and sculptures that appear to be fluid with water-like texture.
By 2019, she was steadily producing her pieces and they were gaining recognition, popularity and sales both locally and throughout the United States. When a friend in Oregon offered her an unused kiln, Debra initially declined as they really didn’t have space for it, and Debra was happy using the kilns at BARN. However, her husband Kevin disagreed and insisted they purchase the kiln and set up a home studio in their garage. Later that year, she decided to start another business, Aspire Glass Works. When covid hit and the kilns at BARN were no longer available, she let out a sigh of relief and appreciation for the kiln and studio she and husband Kevin built at their home.
Throughout the pandemic, Debra refined and reworked her techniques through online courses to create even more vivid and inspiring pieces. As she explained, when the stress of world events would become too much, she’d head to her studio and create something cathartic, such as her rainbow sun catchers, which were sold at Island Life Artisan Gifts on Winslow Way. When the Ukraine was attacked, she created small Ukrainian flag magnetic lapel pins, which were initially sold exclusively at Danger, also on Winslow Way (all proceeds are donated to The World Central Kitchen). However, as their popularity grew, they began carrying the pins on their Etsy site. Through the pin sales, they’ve already collected over $1,400 to support WCK.
Running two businesses—which includes frequent trips back to St. Louis, creating beautiful art and feeding her travel lust makes for a very busy woman, as she noted “I feel like I’m juggling 20 balls in the air at once.” She doesn’t let it stop her though, when she goes into her studio, she can focus on just one thing, which allows her to cleanse her mind and soul through the creative process. If a piece doesn’t suit her, she’s okay with that, and she sets it aside to be used later in a newly created piece. Sometime pieces will live there for a year or more before the inspiration strikes.
While Debra does the “hot work”, which entails creating and cutting the glass to be fused, her husband Kevin assists with the “cold work” by cutting and molding the rims and edges of the unfinished pieces using saws, drills, sanders and polishers, along with making all of her beautiful displays for the sculptural pieces.
Her most popular pieces include what she calls “tapestry” glass; angel hair strands of glass woven in to create a fabric-like appearance. Fluid water-like and wave sculptures, bowls and platters are also very popular and have even been commissioned to create beautiful window privacy screens and wall art.
Debra’s work has been featured at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art’s Sunday art market and the Bainbridge Island Studio Tours. In addition to her home décor, functional art, upcycled and wearable art, Debra creates holiday art pieces and is available for commissions. To view her work (and purchase), visit her website at Aspire Glass Works or visit them on Etsy.
A version of this article previously appeared in Arts & Humanities Bainbridge Currents Online Magazine.
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