Local artists look forward to annual ACGA Clay & Glass Festival

'Glass is born in a dance of sand, fire and metal that fuels the spirit of my inner caveman,' says first-time exhibitor

Glass artist Martin Ehrensvard has always been a creator, building structures out of blocks, clay and paper. Growing up, he was also somewhat of a pyromaniac and was fascinated by candles and fireworks. To him, glassblowing is a perfect combination of those elements.

"I thrive in creative environments that are raw and physical, places that require the focus and strength of my body and mind," he told the Weekly. "This is why I love the art glass process. Glass is born in a dance of sand, fire and metal that fuels the spirit of my inner caveman."

Ehrensvard is one of more than 135 juried artists who will showcase their work at the 27th annual ACGA Clay & Glass Festival set for July 13-14 at the Palo Alto Art Center.

The festival, hosted by the Association of Clay and Glass Artists, will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. According to media contact Kathy Bentaieb, there will also be live demonstrations on both days from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., featuring pottery-throwing, glassblowing and ikebana arrangements, along with an interactive clay art project for artists of all ages.

Some artists have also been exhibiting every year since the festival started 27 years ago, Bentaieb said, while approximately 20% of the artists are new.

Ehrensvard, a 2014 Palo Alto High School graduate, will be attending the ACGA Clay & Glass festival for the first time this year. He was introduced to glassblowing after taking a ceramics and sculpture class during his sophomore year of high school.

"My family moved to Palo Alto from Sweden and we didn't know if we would stay very long," Ehrensvard said. "My parents told me to take classes that I would think was fun and to not worry about college."

Since graduating, Ehrensvard has traveled the world, learning from many different glassblowing artists, including Tobias Mohl, Davide Salvadore and David Patchen. He came back to Palo Alto two years ago to teach ceramics and sculpture and run the studio at Paly.

"I'm super excited about this festival because it is a juried show so it's harder to get into," Ehrensvard said. "When someone who juries the show says your work is good enough for you to be here, that means so much to me as an artist. It's a big honor because a lot of the artists I've learned how to blow glass from will also be at the festival."

Celma Kirkwood, a Palo Alto-based ceramics artist originally from Brazil, will also be attending the ACGA Clay & Glass Festival for the first time. Kirkwood did not start off with ceramics; in fact, her background was in architecture. However, when she moved to the United States, she chose not to pursue it anymore because she would have to start again from scratch and go back to school.

"Many years ago in Brazil, I did a sabbatical in an art department," Kirkwood said. "I've always liked painting and drawing. I had access to this studio and played with clay a little bit. I've been taking it more seriously in the last few years."

Kirkwood considers herself "self-taught" in ceramics and said that she generally does not have a plan when she starts a project. She gravitates toward pieces that are functional, such as vases.

"I like to do my own thing and discover stuff because that is the sense of adventure for me," she said. "I don't like going with the rules and do what everyone else is doing. I start with a piece of clay and play a little bit and see where it wants to go. I work on it and feel the direction that I want to follow. There are so many possibilities and you can make anything."

One of the biggest challenges in ceramics is having the "kiln gods in your favor," according to Kirkwood.

"Many times you have everything looking how you want and when it goes into the kiln something breaks, the temperature is too high or the colors you want don't come out the way you expect," she said. "The challenge is to get to the final object the way you envisioned."

In conjunction with this year's festival, the Palo Alto Art Center is also presenting a new exhibit, "Connections -- ACGA at PAAC," which will run through Aug. 4. The exhibit unveils a selection of pieces made by artists and members of the ACGA who have a special connection with the art center.

"In addition to showcasing their work, the artists will be sharing their personal stories of the long-standing relationship between ACGA and the Art Center," Bentaieb said.

What: ACGA Clay & Glass Festival.

Where: Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Road, Palo Alto.

When: Saturday, July 13, and Sunday, July 14, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Free.

Info: ACGA.

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