Right and left brains are often worlds apart, but they have coexisted seamlessly for Cardiff studio glass artist Michelle Kurtis Cole in her careers as both engineer and artist. Throughout her fascinating life journey she has demonstrated her brilliance and indomitable spirit.
“Shelly” began her life in an interracial family in Washington DC during the heat of the civil rights movement. Racial prejudice fueled her unsurpassed work ethic and pursuit of excellence that led her, without formal education, to achieve Senior Systems Engineer IV at Cisco Systems. At the same time she built her own highly successful dance studio in Baltimore, Md. having danced seriously since age three.
Cole speaks of her ethnic legacy, “As an artist, I’m inspired by my heritage —Native American, African American, and Scottish-Irish — each with its own deep connection to nature. To strengthen that connection I immerse myself in the natural world whenever I can.” For over three years Cole lived aboard her 45-foot sailboat on the East Coast. Certified as a master scuba diver, she has explored exotic undersea locations for almost four decades. Since childhood she has contributed time and energy to causes such as rescuing animals and preserving coral reefs.
She explains, “I am awed by the marvels of the ocean, earth and sky. From these I gather the imagery, feelings and life force that feed my work. Honoring the beauty, power and spirit of nature is the common thread through all of my pieces.” Her recent Journeys series exemplifies this, including pieces inspired by visits with shamans in the remote rain forests of South America and by diving more than 185 feet beneath the Caribbean sea.
At a very early age, a strand of beads given to her by her grandmother sparked her interest in glass. “The transparency, the bright colors, the shiny finish and the play of light are what initially captured me.” Since the early ‘70s she has worked in virtually every form of glass art, studying at prestigious learning centers such as The Studio at Corning and the Pilchuck Glass School, with international masters such as Jiri Harcuba and Alena Matejkova of the Czech Republic, Kimiake and Shinichi Haguchi of Japan, and Richard Whiteley of Australia.
She says, “The more I explore glass, the more I appreciate it. As an engineer I love the technical challenges and endless possibilities that glassmaking presents, and as an artist I love the ability this amazing, ancient medium gives me to express feelings from all times in my life.”
After relocating to the West Coast in 2005, Cole established the Glass Kiln Forming Department at UCSD and her own studio in Cardiff, from which she continues to explore new techniques in glass.
Cole’s work is held in private collections worldwide and can be viewed on her website at michellecole.com.
Her new Passages series and selections from her Journeys series are currently on exhibit at L Street Fine Art through December 2012. Artist receptions are scheduled for Aug. 25 and Nov. 11.
Kay Colvin is an art consultant and director of the L Street Fine Art Gallery in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. She specializes in promoting emerging and mid-career artists and bringing enrichment programs to elementary schools through The Kid’s College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.