Jessica Schimpf is turning the glass blowing world on its head. Not only is the 28-year-old artist a woman excelling in an overwhelmingly male-dominated field, she’s creating many of her pieces from recycled glass, recycled packaging, and organic plants—something that has never been done before and that is often frowned upon by most traditional glass blowers in Europe.
Schimpf grew up in an artistic family, even though they didn’t call it that. “My first memory is carving wood in my backyard,” she remembers. “My dad made furniture and was very crafty, but never said he was an artist. In our family, if you were a creative person, you just did it.” Her father also kept greenhouses and was a skilled horticulturist, something that would eventually influence her current work. In high school, Schimpf began winning awards for her metal work. One of the prizes was weekend classes at the prestigious University of the Arts, which she says gave her access to art meccas like New York City and Philadelphia.
She went on to study fine art at Baltimore’s Maryland Institute College of Art. After graduation she worked for The Sculpture Foundation, where she worked on monumental metal sculptures by famous artists. It was there that Schimpf realized that it wasn’t notoriety she craved—she wanted something more viscerally fulfilling from her craft. Like so many pioneers before her, she packed her bags and headed west.
In Denver, Schimpf continued experimenting with her art in the form of glass blowing. Soon she was creating original pieces and developing her own signature style. “Glass is technically still alive,” she explains. “Even though it seems solid when you are holding a cup in your hand, that glass is still moving on a molecular level. That is the catch point. When I tell people that side of it, they get really excited.” That excitement led to her company name, Mantra Glass Art. “I thought about ‘mantra’ being a word that you could speak and share with the world and that may benefit people,” she says.
Schimpf started using recycled materials, something that up until that point had not been done in the glass world. Recycled glass has small bubbles and imperfections, which are a big faux pas with traditional blowers. Schimpf says she finds it beautiful—not to mention ecologically friendly. She also incorporates plants, soil, and recycled packaging into her work. Schimpf currently rents studio space from the Rocky Mountain Creative Arts Center, but she plans to expand. “The most reasonable thing is to start a studio and see if I can push it towards being fully sustainable,” she says. “It’s never been done, and maybe I can be a model for other glass blowing studios in the future.”
She’s working on a Kickstarter to fund this dream. In addition to the studio being fully sustainable, she‘d like to offer free glass blowing lessons to kids in the Denver area. “Art saved my life, and it gave me purpose,” she says. “Now I’m trying to give that purpose to kids and to other people.”
Photo Credit: Alicia Lewin