ST. ALBANS – In a small, unassuming camping trailer tucked into a quiet St. Albans City backyard, Tessa Hill slid on a pair of protective glasses and motioned toward an industrial torch.
“This is where I do my torch work,” Hill said, sitting down behind it. “And it is done with a torch.”
She ignited the torch, spitting a small flame forward.
“Basically, it entails heating up this torch… and then manipulating glass rods in front of that flame,” Hill said, grabbing for one of the many glass rods strewn around her workspace.
She twisted the rod of glass over the flame before casually pressing it with a pair of tongs for demonstration’s sake. “I’ll use tools and other pieces of glass to stretch and mash and manipulate that glass into all kinds of jewelry,” she said.
After a quick show, Hill killed the flame and set the glass rod aside.
Eventually, that rod might become one of the many animals and plants Hill typically molds out of these glass rods, like the bees she says have been popular, or the mythical “Meraffe” that now sits on a shelf in Hill’s home.
(A “Meraffe” is, as its name implies, a half-mermaid and half-giraffe.)
Hill traced her relationship with the arts back to her parents, a pair of artists Hill said would bring their children to different galleries and arts events – including glassblowing demonstrations.
Her brother also took the artist’s route, making beads at an Arizona studio.
At the University of Vermont (UVM), Hill would eventually take glassblowing to satisfy the requirements of a fine arts minor.
Her major was in abnormal psychology.
“My senior year at UVM, I went down to visit my brother in Arizona for Spring Break, and he kind of put me through ‘bead camp,’” Hill said.
She signed up for glassblowing when she returned, both out of interest and also just to fill in the gap in her credits. “I kind of ran out of classes I wanted to take in the art department,” Hill said.
That last semester, Hill interned with Eric Nelson, a glassblower who works under the name Eye and I Glass. A semester turned into a three-year apprenticeship – rare among glassblowers looking to protect their craft, according to Hill.
Stylistically, Hill’s work falls under the Venetian tradition of glassblowing, a lamp-based style of glassblowing historically held in such a high regard that, during the Italian Renaissance, Venice’s government would exile glassblowers to an island in the Mediterranean Sea to keep their style from traveling beyond Venice’s borders.
Though the tools have changed, Hill produces in a similar style to the Venetians, playing up glass’s translucent and organic traits in order to mimic natural sights, like the many birds and bees she currently has listed for sale between her website and a handful of galleries, including the Artist in Residence Gallery in downtown St. Albans.
“I’m an animal person,” she admitted when bringing the Messenger to her studio.
Hill listed off all the animals she and her husband keep at home: the sheepdog that joined her in the studio that day, a cat, some fish and a trio of chickens that clucked from their pen just across the yard from their studio.
She said she had actually gone to college originally interested in studying animals, but when Hill realized the university’s animal studies were built on gauging an animal’s fear in response to certain stimuli, she switched to abnormal psychology.
“Which is also really interesting,” Hill said as an aside.
Those concerns for animal welfare sometime spill into her work as an artist.
Most recently, Hill’s glass bees, one of her most popular works, are being sold with the promise that 10% of proceeds are donated to the Honey Bee Health Coalition.
“I was inspired just by seeing them in my garden out here,” Hill said, motioning toward her yard where, among the few flowers and between the clucks of three chickens, one could find an insect hotel and a nesting box for native bees.
Today, Hill considers making and selling her work a part-time job. Between her hours of work as a glassblower, Hill also works for Conant Metal and Light, an artisanal lighting and metalworking shop in Burlington.
Beyond her apprenticeship with Eye and I Glass, Hill also studied glass and sculpting through workshops at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York and the Snow Farm Craft School in Massachusetts, where she teaches a class annually.
She came to St. Albans two years ago with her husband, who was from the area.
“It’s an amazing, supportive community,” Hill said. “I can’t say enough about the art community in St. Albans.”
Altogether, Hill has about ten years of experience as a glassblower. Between the delicate movements when crafting and the end product, she says she’s still amazed by what can be made from a few rods of glass.
“You have this amazing sculpture,” Hill said. “Whatever you make out of it, people are amazed.
“I get hypnotized myself, too.”
Beyond galleries in Burlington and Woodstock, Vt., Hill’s work can be found in the Artist in Residence Gallery in St. Albans and online at https://www.tessahillsculpture.com/.
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