Saturday, October 20, 2007

Diamond Hidden Among Quartz

Anyone in the lapidary field knows how easy it is to miss a diamond among hundreds or thousands of similar-looking pebbles. Camouflaged in beds of quartz, to the untrained eye it is likely to get thrown out as extraneous common stone in its rough unassuming form picked up in hand-fulls of what looks like the same stuff, appearing to have no market value. As humble and unassuming as it may seem, its chemical composition sets it apart. Only after picking it up and examining it closely does one become aware of its intrinsic value and what crystal clarity and brilliance lies beneath its obscure, gravely surface.

Such is the case with that rare artist you find, tossed into the bin with a host of others working in the same general medium, often overlooked and undervalued, when in fact just beneath the surface, unbeknown to those around them is something so revolutionary it threatens to set the medium as we know it on its ear.

At first glance, Michelle Strade, the artist behind Shoozles appears to be just a mother from Illinois who makes fused glass jewelry in a small town and sells it to her friends in order to be home with her triplet boys, but when you look deeper you see she has been incubating a wonderful discovery which could bring her national recognition. It is as if one went out to the henhouse and lifted up one of the hens, to find a Faberge egg nestled amongst all the white ones you’d expected to find.

Michelle has made jewelry for 18 years, and has done glass fusing for 8. She has worked over the years with a variety of different materials, but says that nothing compares to glass. Michelle has found her calling with this medium. Some days she turns out as many as 60 of these glass pieces, firing them in her kiln in batches. Some look like miniature parallel universes.

To create her jewelry, Michelle uses all brands of stained glass, some types of lampwork glass, float, bullseye, and system 96 glasses. She explains that you can't melt these brands/glasses together within the same piece or the glass will fracture because they heat and cool at different rates.

The pieces she wire-wraps and those not from standard commercial molds are the ones that appeal to me the most like, Molecular Fusion. I’ve always loved the look of cells dividing, hence my attraction to the lovely bullseye-shaped orbs found in Ocean Jasper. Its similarity to the natural stone immediately drew me to this pendant.

To make pendants like this one the artist uses a technique she quietly developed called Magic Mistake, a process whereby she starts with a solid color piece of glass, then uses a frit process (glass powder), fires it once, and then uses a fusible type of enamel to paint designs or scenes on the surface before firing the piece again. The manufacturer of the frit she uses confirms that they have never heard of frit being used in quite this way. It is clear to see from the unusual effects which don’t look like typical fused glass that she is really onto something!

Wild Mushroom Cap also has those bubbly spots of color found in Molecular Fusion but is made as an elongated bead skewered through the short side for a cord to go through.

Magic Doorway, (using dichroic glass) is very unique, and its iridescence gives it a definite air of mystery and enchantment. It packs quite a punch for such a small pendant!

The most difficult piece she has ever made was called Van Gogh's Starry Night. That piece sold, but it is one she wishes she could keep.

Michelle does a variety of home shows and jewelry parties and several indoor shows, totaling approximately 30 a year. The income generated from local sources, (combined with sales from her Etsy store which make up 1/3 of her earnings), allows her to make a secure living from her art, and is much more lucrative than the teacher’s aid job paying $7.80/hr. that was her other career option during a transitional period of her life.

The artist is trying a new way to sell her jewelry called Online Hostess which works like a jewelry party but set up online rather than in someone’s home.

In the future, Michelle would like to learn how to create soldered bezels for her glass pieces, and to explore lampwork again, but says she would die happy even if she never did anything but fuse.

Keep your eyes peeled for Holiday painted charms and snow scenes coming out this season (and maybe some surprises).

Michelle belongs to EGA (Etsy Glass Artists) and Worldwide Women Artists.

What I’ve shown here are just a few of her glass pieces, so If you’d like to see what else she’s got available, be sure to go to:

and to learn more about the artist go to her blog at:


Anonymous said...

Wow Pippit! Another excellent feature you've written! Michelle's got to be very happy with that! I LOVE that Starry Night pendant! ;o)

The Mommy and Me Boutique said...

Your features are magnificent! My, how pleased the artist must be!!

Becki said...

What an amazing feature! I was completely captivated!

Cryztalvisions said...

I love Michelle's work, you picked some great pieces to highlight. The starry night pendant is "to die for".

There is such depth to her glass work you could get lost staring into her pendants and beads. Great feature!

shoozles said...

OH I just got home from my show last night and today got to read this and I think you Pippit should go in to journalism. You have made me sound so wonderful. I adore you for it! From the bottom of my heart Thank you So so Much!