Deep in the furnaces of Kansas University's Chamney Barn, Alison Sheafor makes art at 920 degrees Farenheit. But the results can be viewed at room temperture at the Lawrence Arts Center.
Sheafor, 24, creates multimedia designs, primarilly using glass. The 24-year-old glass blower and KU student is among five winners in this year's Juried Crafts Exhibition at the local arts center. The Lawrence Arts Guild sponsors the show.
"I like to have my work shown locally," Sheafor said. "It helps to get your name around."
In Lawrence, her work will be on display in the gallery room of the center through Wednesday. She's also shown work at Art Frames in Lawrence as well as two nationally competitive exhibitions, the Glass Masters: The Next Generation, in Milwaukee, Wis., and the Capital Glass Invitational, in Bethesda, Md.
THE PIECES on display at the arts center show she's willing to mix media: One piece frames blown glass in a jagged wooden setting, while another, called "The Mermaid," uses a twisting metal pedestal to support the glasswork.
"I like multi-media work," said Sheafor, a thin, energetic woman with freckles. "For the wooden piece, I cut the wood, and I did the metalwork for the other one."
Sheafor grew up in Topeka, where she and her brother became deeply interested in art.
"I had applied to the California School of the Arts, but I got accepted two weeks before I had to go, and I couldn't uproot in two weeks. Besides, it's too neon, too California. I like the Midwest. It's more laid-back."
SHE ENDED UP taking a year at Washburn University, where she studied under a silversmith. She came to glass-blowing in a round-about fashion, eventually settling on the medium after moving to KU.
"My brother was blowing glass at Washburn, and I really didn't want to compete with him," she said. "He's a cyclist now, he's in national races. Then I started in glass, and now it seems to me what I naturally want to do." She works in a small room in the basement of the old farm house next to the KU barn. There she's built her own annealer, a big metal box where glass can cool. After the glass is heated and blown, it must cool very slowly to prevent breaking. The glass sometimes must cool as long as 20 hours.
ON HER DESK stand several colored-glass rods that she uses to put color into the clear glass she blows.
"That's lead glass," she said. "It's not really made in the United States; they mostly use pyrex. That's imported from Germany."
The work she does for classes with KU professor Vernon Brejcha can go out onto the crafts-show circuit, a grind craftspeople need to endure to establish themselves in the market. Her two recent national shows offer opportunities not always available to people in school.
"It's unusual for undergraduates," she said. "It's more or less expected with gradute students. But we all do the college Christmas sale, because we need the money. The school gets 25 percent of what we make."
AFTER KU, Sheafor would like to go on to graduate school, preferably at Alfred University in New York. She's also helping to write and edit a book on glassblowing with two teachers she met in national conferences.
One of the problems with glass-blowing as a craft is the expense: An independent artist needs thousands of dollars to build a furnace in a studio. But Sheafor said she likes the medium enough to continue.
"I think if you get tired of something, when it becomes a job, you have to quit," she said. "If I got tired of glassblowing, I'd quit. But I don't see myself getting tired of it for a long time."
Here is the list of winners in the local show, announced Friday:
First Prize: Sherry Umscheid, jewelry ($250).
Second Prize: Patty Boyer, ceramics ($150).
Third Prize: Helen Martin, porcelin ($100).
Honorable Mentions: Ardys Ramburg, enamel, Alison Sheafor, glass ($50).