Behind the Mineral Glass: Adventures in CrystalLand, with Jeremy Sinkus
As we adore covering all things “gemmy,” we fell in love the with the incredible geological glass art created by Jeremy Sinkus, Founder of Artisan Made Gemstones. From tourmaline decanters and amethyst glasses to mineral lighting, his glassworks have everything a mineral and décor enthusiast could dream of. In a one-on-one interview, we delve into the story behind his incredible art.
Let’s start with the beginning—before you started Artisan Made Gemstones, you were a miner, as well as a mineral dealer. How did you get involved in the business?
Before I started “Artisan Made Gemstones” (may be changing name soon), I traveled the country digging minerals and fossils in localities I would find on old maps and books. I enjoyed getting to know the country and people in the rocks trade. Soon I would start buying and selling at club mineral shows, Quartzsite and Tucson. I was a dealer for a little while, and got to know the culture and market a bit. I loved working with the materials I would obtain by carving, setting them into jewelry and doing some lapidary work. I was always an artist and crafter of sorts. I started making wall art from fossil furs I would dig in Rhode Island, and later would make sculptural objects by soldering crystals onto glass and other materials.
Where did your interest in creating works of glass of art begin?
After meeting a group of young guys that blew glass in the late 90’s, I got to be fascinated with the hot glass studio life. The potential of objects you could create with hot glass and cold glass was life changing. The characteristics of glass was so relative to crystals, minerals to me, but I could have control of the material on so many levels. It was the medium that could give me an infinite scope of life work, and I didn’t know much or anything about it at the time.
How did the first few pieces come about?
Because a hot glass shop is complicated and needs technicians and knowledgeable people to run, I had to make appointments with more seasoned glass blowers to aid and assist me in creating things. This pushed me to find other ways of having control of the hot glass. So, I took a class in flameworking/lampworking to use a small torch in my own studio to make smaller adornments and continue designing with glass.
The first things I attempted to make were glass crystals, but I failed on many levels because I was new to glass…but I could sculpt, and found glass was also a very aquatic material that I could express and create ocean themed work with, that would actually push me into the craft world making a living for the last 15 years creating sea life art glass. This was a very important time to learn how to exist with an art-based living and would teach me many facets of a life in glass. Deep down I was missing my roots as a rock hound and the mineral/fossil world. I would create some interesting contemporary crystal and fossil designs here and there in glass, but it was missing something, so I concentrated on my aquatic works. I knew that I wanted to create a line of work to bring to the mineral world, but it had to be done right. Only one chance to make that impression. So, it took years of learning and problem solving to connect all the dots needed to create the AMG line.
Many of your works revolve around tourmaline shapes and variations of it to home décor. Why tourmaline specifically?
My favorite mineral was always tourmaline. Very much so. I collect tourmaline and its geometry and striations has always quenched some sort of thirst for shape and color. The combination of what’s going on with a tourmaline crystal really sparks me somehow. As we know, gemstones are glassy and glass is gem-like. There is an obvious relationship to the materials we find fascinating. After all, “Glass is Geological.” With now over 15 years of knowledge in the glass arts, I revisited the mineral world in glass design. I attempted to create a small tourmaline crystal with new techniques and I was amazed with what venture I had found! So, I scaled it up a bit and made some alterations to my new technique. I hand lapped the terminations and changed some coloring applications. They started looking more and more believable and really fun! Then I realized I was a glass blower and could blow bubbles! There was an “aha moment” now that I made the glass hollow and functional… that was the birth of the tourmaline glass. I soon realized that glass looks great with mineral characteristics. Well, it’s the perfect medium to mimic and sculpt mineral and gem forms. It has color, transparency, hardness, opalescence, reflection, refractive index, inclusions…. almost every characteristic you can find in a mineral specimen for gemstones can be created in glass. Now I had the perfect medium to create what I was so passionate about, connecting these natural elements to art design. It combined three worlds for me: the geological world for inspiration, the art world for expression, and the people that share a similar passion. My first showing of the new work was at the Northeast Mineral Fossil Show, and the response was incredible. Important people in the industry noticed the work and pushed me right where I wanted to be—in front of clientele that understood connecting geological themes and design in a geological material (i.e. glass). There seemed to be something missing, and this design concept had a space to fill.
There must have been a lot of trial and error in perfecting the formula to make these beauties. What goes into considering which glass to use for each piece?
We have always looked for something unusual or remarkable in a natural specimen or stone to happen by nature or accident. But now I have the control and availability to create the unusual or spectacular in an esthetic piece of art in theme with the specimens, gemstones, and fossil phenomenon we love so much. Now, a collectable design element by the hand of man is accompanied by the natural geological world, giving a freedom of expression or exaggeration thereof. Like a bird carver chooses the right wood for the project of creating a lifelike fowl, I use choice material to sculpt geological designs. Again, “Glass is Geological.” I use different glasses, depending on what mineral I am looking to create. There are many kinds of glasses that have different qualities to them. Not all glass is the same. Some are harder, some are softer, and some have very unique traits that are fitting for some projects, but not for others. I have to choose my glass carefully so that it doesn’t look cheap, or mass-produced, due to association with glass as a commodity.
At the gem shows, you introduced new Wulfenite glass art. Can you tell us about the collection and how the process of figuring out how to create an entirely new mineral aesthetic works?
I had these honey orange-colored glass bricks in my studio that I picked up somewhere thinking I would use them someday in a project, but I couldn’t melt them. So, I cut them on a saw and hand-lapped them into these perfect Wulfenite crystal shapes. Since the bricks were pretty large I decided to make the crystals as if they were the largest wulfenite crystals anyone had ever seen. I had a decision between make something believable and replication, or making something exaggerated and exceptional. I feel that if you have the freedom the create something, make it special. So, the application of the wulfenite crystals was to make something people would raise an eyebrow or two at. I like this concept of scaling up—making abnormally large specimens for decorative and sculptural works. Now the glass will also give an opportunity for architectural designs and lighting.
What project is up next in your design repertoire?
My next venture is furthering the exploration of fossil designs in glass. To have esthetic control and freedom to play with color, transparencies, and the juxtaposition of fossils in a contemporary art platform. What if fossils were clear like quartz, or a brilliant shade of blue? I like combining the natural with a modern twist, to make it new. I am also in the stages of creating the glass for a color match for a specific mineral I hope to sculpt by the end of 2019 in my studio, in Shelburne Falls, M.A. My studio is an old mill complex that was the oldest knife making factory in the country; run by hydroelectric power from the river, I have access to “green” power for my kilns and equipment.
To learn more, be sure to visit Artisan Made Gemstones online at http://www.artisanmadegemstones.com or on Instagram @artisanmadegemstones.