Copper in the Arts

March 2008

Apprentice and Alchemist: Tanya Garvis

By Melanie Votaw

Tanya Garvis Vitreous enamel artist Tanya Garvis

Photograph courtesy of Tanya Garvis

Tanya Garvis is a perfect example of an artist who found just the right niche. She was feeling burned out from her work in marketing and the restaurant business. Then, one day, she happened upon an art gallery where she was immediately drawn to the unusual vitreous enamel artwork on display. In the spirit of serendipity, She left her name and phone number with the owner, hoping to apprentice with the artist.

By the time Dennis Berry finally picked up the phone, it was two years later, and Tanya's initial response was, "Who is this?" She had almost forgotten about leaving her name and number that fateful day. Berry wanted to retire and was looking for someone of integrity to continue his work. A few other artists were interested, but it was Tanya that he chose, and after apprenticing with him, she was convinced that she had found her calling.

Tanya has only been making her unique copper and glass wall art since October 2006, but has already sold numerous pieces through individual sales, gallery shows, and commissions. "I'm making a living! Who knew?" she says. "I feel really lucky." But, considering the attention her artwork has garnered in little more than a year, talent would appear to have more to do with her success than luck. Her shows have included the Stone Arch Festival in Minneapolis, the Telluride and Vail Festivals of the Arts, and One of a Kind Show and Sale in Chicago.

Tanya's craft is an ancient vitreous enameling process that is rarely used for wall art today. Believed to have originated in Greece, the materials used--metal and glass--remain the same after all of these years. Tanya's application of the craft creates one-of-a-kind art that evokes images of clouds in water or fire absorbed into rock with colors blending into each other like marble. Her pieces range from small works framed in copper or brass that depict nature designs to large free-floating abstract mosaic collages.

Winter Storm Winter Storm, Tanya Garvis

Photograph by Tanya Garvis

Tanya's process is long and quite physical. She begins with a thin piece of copper that is only about .005-millimeter thick. She cuts the copper into shapes, some of which she uses to create her collage designs, and some of which she uses to create frames. She prepares the surface of the copper through sanding, and sifts powdered glass over the top of the metal. She then kiln-fires the copper, takes it out of the kiln, rolls it with a rolling pin, sifts more glass over the top, and kiln-fires it again.

In order to fuse the elements together and achieve the desired effect, she may kiln-fire the copper and glass as many as five times at temperatures ranging from 1000-1600 degrees F. Tanya gets her powdered glass from Thompson Enamel in Kentucky or J Ring Glass Studio and Store in St. Paul, and the majority of her copper comes from Thin Metal Sales in California.

"When I work, I try to work inside of five to six hours at a time," Tanya says. Otherwise, she risks very sore muscles and exhaustion. Still, she sometimes finds herself working happily into the wee hours in her studio, which she created on her family's porch in Deephaven, Minnesota.

Tanya says that her work is very intuitive, often inspired by nature and travel destinations. Trips to Italy, France, and Barcelona have sparked creations, some of which are reminiscent of the tiles found in the architecture there. She even has a piece inspired by the Eiffel Tower. "But you wouldn't know it unless I told you," she says.

So far this year, Tanya plans to show again at the One of a Kind Show and Sale in Chicago, as well as the Edina Art Fair in Minnesota. Her commissions have included several Minnesota businesses, and right now, she is working on a commission for a new Westin Galleria in Edina. The piece, which will be in earth tones per the client's specifications, will grace a 37-foot section of wall in the lobby. Tanya will spend two months completing the piece, which will be free-floating with no matting or frame and sitting about an inch from the wall.

Tanya loves every minute of creating her distinctive copper and glass art.

"Freedom for me is paramount to my survival," she says, "and creating art has become my version of freedom."

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