Tara Van Meter doesn’t often admit it, but she sometimes dreads walking out back to her studio.
By the time she ventures outside for the final step in the glass-etching process, she knows all her preparation and the previous artistry she has poured into a piece will come down to intense concentration and precise attention to detail, and in just 10 seconds all that she has done thus far can be lost by blowing a hole through the glass.
But when she emerges triumphant, Van Meter, of Van Meter Studio in Washington, carries with her a captivating piece of artistry where leaves may float gently down the sides of a vase, wild horses run free around the rim of a bowl or bears prowl the base of a drinking glass.
“The prep work takes the longest and when I’m ready to walk to my studio, my heart is in my mouth,” Van Meter said. “The process I use for the way I approach glass is sandblasting, which is exacting and tedious and meticulous. The work is dirty and messy and hard on me physically, but what I like is the end product.”
The end product has won awards and accolades for Van Meter, but the path to get there has taken her on a journey. Before arriving at glass etching and carving, Van Meter tried a number of other arts before coming upon stained glass.
“I always wanted to be an artist as a little girl, so I took all these courses (as an adult),” Van Meter recalled. “When I took that $10 workshop for stained glass, I was elated. I had a little toolbox and I felt important.”
Growing up in the Southwest, Van Meter recalled the influence of her grandparents who encouraged her by sending art supplies. Years later in the 1970s, as an Army officer’s wife and the mother of a growing family, Van Meter searched for a way to express herself through the arts.
When she discovered stained glass, Van Meter had found her medium, but was still not completely satisfied. Colorful, stained glass is still a flat display, so to add depth, Van Meter began using an X-ACTO knife to draw lines.
“Like so many of us, I inadvertently took a course and found stained glass. I did that for many years until I saw etched glass,” Van Meter said. “With etched glass I thought I had lost color, but I can incorporate different techniques and can add color to the etched pieces.”
Early on, Van Meter’s studio was her kitchen table after she had cleared the breakfast dishes and sent her kids off to school. She didn’t have a studio like she does now, and she never attended formal art school. Instead she learned by “being an apprentice to tools.”
In addition to her sandblaster, Van Meter’s two main tools are her X-ACTO knife and a lathekin, which is specific to glass work. People often assume that as a glass artist Van Meter blows the glass, but she actually begins her work with an already completed glass piece such as a pendant, champaign flute, vase or bowl. Sometimes she finds them at an estate sale or thrift store and other times glass blowers will give her their imperfect works.
“I have blown glass that friends call their seconds, but I can etch right over that bubble. Then when it is complete both our names go on it and as a professional courtesy, when it sells I split the profits,” Van Meter said.
In making her work, the first step is to apply a product called Buttercut, which adheres to the glass to protect it while Van Meter works. It also serves as a blank canvas for her to draw and design. Van Meter uses a graphite pencil to transfer the design onto the Buttercut before using the X-ACTO knife to cut out every single line.
Then she must determine which sections to sandblast first, as those will receive the deepest cuts.
“Those first sections to sandblast are marked with a number 1, and I create a visual roadmap,” Van Meter explained. “I peel off all the number 1s and expose that glass. Then there might be a number 2 right next to a number 1 — think of the wings of a hummingbird or a turtle’s shell.
“I have to peel each one off. Once I get it all prepped then I mask off the top and bottom of the glass to protect it and sometimes I walk away for a few days. I have a tendency to put off going to the studio as I feel like I am walking that last mile.”
Van Meter said the larger creative process itself is incredibly rewarding as she can see a work in her mind’s eye and then bring it to life. Eventually, when that final piece emerges from the sandblasting cabinet it holds a piece of Van Meter herself inside.
“I want someone who takes home a piece of my work to take away the heart of the piece, because it is a piece of my heart,” she said. “I love my work and am humbled and honored in my lifetime to be put in touch with this gift and to share (it). When people want a piece of mine, I am very touched.”
Van Meter’s work is available locally at the Walpole Artisans Cooperative, 52 Main St. in Walpole, or online at walpoleartisans.org or Facebook. To learn more about Tara Van Meter and the etched and carved glass work of Van Meter Studio, visit vanmeterstudio.com or f