A Glass Master Displays the Art of Conservation

Sculptor Erwin Timmers, shown at his Washington Glass School studio in Prince George's County, uses recycled glass in his works, some of which
Sculptor Erwin Timmers, shown at his Washington Glass School studio in Prince George's County, uses recycled glass in his works, some of which "focus on seeing the world through the future generation's eyes." Below left, Timmers cuts glass to rearrange and melt in a kiln. (Photos By Sora Devore For The Washington Post)
By Eviana Hartman
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, December 16, 2007

N early 2 million tons of glass ended up in landfills in 2005, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Erwin Timmers is doing his part to change that practice.

The sculptor who works with recycled glass is part of a wave of green artists who not only use salvaged materials -- which has been done through the ages -- but also incorporate messages about sustainability and the downsides of consumerism into their work.

We chatted with the 43-year-old Dutch-born artist, who is the co-founder and studio director of the Washington Glass School and Studio in Mount Rainier, about creativity, sustainability and the ways the two can meet.

How did you start working with glass?

I went to art school in California, and I always made sculptures with some lighted component, mostly using recycled metals. Glass always seemed like a natural addition. After I moved to Washington . . . I found that I was more intrigued by the glass. It wasn't being used by everybody else.

Have you always been conservation-minded?

I've always had a big concern for the environment. I went on nuclear protest rallies when I was a teenager. I grew up in Holland. It's a bit of a different society, and I think that also shaped my way of dealing with it. It's a small country with limited resources. You just try to live according to your means and possibilities. In the winter, if you leave a room, you turn off the light and you turn off the heat.

What kind of statements about the planet does your work make?

I have a 4-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter, and they will have to live in what we leave behind. Some of the pieces kind of focus on seeing the world through the future generation's eyes. My son has a little camera he took some pictures with; I kind of manipulated some of the images and translated them into glass. I took a voice recording of him saying "Help," took the sound wave and made that into a 3-D glass piece. I don't want to be overtly recycling; I don't take bottles and stack them up. The message has to be subtle.

How do you make your pieces?

It kind of depends on the glass that I get. Since it's all recycled glass, I'm never quite sure how it's going to react. Some is tempered glass or safety glass; when you break it, it smashes into a million pieces. If I tried to heat it, it would smash, so I pre-smash it, arrange those pieces into a pattern and melt them back into sheets or castings in a kiln. With standard glass, sometimes I cast it into a mold or sometimes I cut it into pieces and arrange it into patterns.

What do you teach at the Washington Glass School?


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