Debbie Tarsitano has been developing encased flamework sculptural art for the last 25 years, and has become a world leader in the art of fine encased design. But Debbie did not start out as a glass artist. Her father, Delmo, was a fine art painter, and at an early age Debbie was attracted to art, greatly influenced by visits with her parents to the Metropolitian Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She studied painting throughout her childhood and later as an adult at Hofstra University, as a student of Art and Journalism.
Debbie went on to study privately mastering oriental brush painting studying with Shigeo Ishi of Japan and Mrs. Sun Lee of MIT. In her early 20's Debbie and her father Delmo Tarsitao developed a passion for collecting glass and exploring it as an artistic medium. The two started Tarsitano Studio in the mid 1970s to pursue their love of glass art.
Starting from scratch with a small torch and a card table in a room built onto their garage, the father-daughter team embarked on a journey to master the complexities of working with glass. At that time all glass artists learned as they worked, creating art by experimental trial and error because schools and universities did not yet teach flame work in their art programs. Glass artists also had difficulty finding the materials and equipment they needed to work; Debbie and Delmo overcame their share of such hardships.
Delmo hand-fashioned most of the tools used in the studio. The two sought out glass supplies wherever they could find them, often from leftover stocks of failed glass factories. The early studio was a hodgepodge of some store-bought equipment and mostly hand-made tools -- not a pretty sight. Persistence, patience and most importantly, creativity and quality of design ruled the earliest years of their studio.
During those early years Debbie and Delmo first met Paul Ysart, the famous Scottish paperweight artist, at a PCA convention in Boston. They enjoyed talking and became friends, keeping up a lively correspondence for the next eight years, with an occasional call to talk and catch up. In 1985 after a trip to England Debbie and Delmo visited Paul in Scotland at his cottage in Wick for a day. By that time his studio had closed, and he had retired. Debbie never saw his studio.
After his retirement Paul Ysart gave Debbie some of the canes which he had made, and with his permission Debbie created 5 or 6 collaborative paperweights including his canes and butterflies with her own lampwok motifs. These paperweights have a duel signature and are all in private collections.
The three glass artists continued to correspond until Paul Ysart's death but Debbie never saw him after that day in 1985. She says of Paul "He was a wonderful friend and a great artist, he made a tremendous contribution to the field of fine paperweights with his style and integrity of work."
In their primitive glass studio in those early days, Debbie and Delmo often created work beyond the capability of their equipment. Each success surprised and inspired them to push even further ahead. In the early years they made paperweights out of Pyrex glass, which is much harder than crystal. Working Pyrex is like working with cement. Moreover, Pyrex then was available only in clear glass - no colored Pyrex existed - and their designs called for vivid colors. So Debbie and Delmo mixed their own colored glass by blending metal oxides into the Pyrex. Soon the pair began seeking softer crystal and compatible glass colors, which led them in the late 1970's to cooperate with Schott Optical Glass Co in creating a new type of encasement glass. The new glass permitted the encasement of fine, delicate designs in solid clear crystal and has now become the standard in the field.
Early on, working as individuals, the two pursued separate inspirations for their artwork. Delmo focused on insect and reptile designs and later added vegetation and fruit to his repertoire. Debbie specialized in floral designs in her painterly style concentrating on innovative flowers and impressionistic still-life motifs. In the early eighties, Debbie developed her engraved paperweight designs in collaboration with renowned Master Engraver, Max Roland Erlacher of Corning, New York. Debbie created each glass piece and designs a suitable engraved scene, which Max, through his skill as an engraver, incorporated with Debbie's flame work. This collaboration is still going strong after more than 20 years.
Also during the 1980's Delmo's work began to include sculptures while Debbie explored multi-flower conceptual designs in paperweights and plaques. Delmo's range of subjects expanded as his Earth Life series created complex color variations and textures upon sandy background surfaces -- incorporating unique microcosms of natural life subjects on an earthy background -- created from crushed colored glass. In parallel, Debbie developed millefiore complex center canes, designs within designs, which evolved into the more complex and abstract work she later developed in the 1990's.
Sadly, Delmo passed away after an illness in 1991, at the peak of his artistic success. Just before falling ill, he began creating complex designs with elaborate cane elements. Examples of Delmo's last work with canes are few and each is an exquisite masterpiece. Collectors continue to embrace his work and appreciate the consummate objects of glass art that he created.
After her father died, Debbie embarked on a path to rediscover her roots in fine contemporary art and apply them to glass. She continued the tradition of excellence in design by reinventing the studio to work alone. The 1990's were a decade of transition as Debbie began to evolve her style away from traditional still life designs. She began to look at her self as an artist with a new perspective leading her to experiment with new techniques and concepts. She found it difficult to move her thoughts from the loving partnership and experience of working with her Father, Delmo, but she persevered until her artistic transition was complete. Her innovative style has led her to create many signature one of a kind pieces. Her striking red scarlet dahlia, unique multi flowered designs and engraved portraits are sought by collectors worldwide.
Debbie developed a new vision for her work and began introducing new elements with contemporary themes never before used in paperweights. Her vision: creating modern art in glass. Since 2000 she has explored the world of contemporary abstract expressionism in her "Components" series, drawing her inspiration from 20th century artists such as Picasso, Pollack and Warhol, and the contemporary art glass scene of Lino Tagliapietra, Stanislav Libensky and others. She does not think of her work as paperweights, rather now as encased flamework with endless design possibilities.
Seemingly esoteric, many collectors enjoy being drawn into the contemporary approach of Debbie's new work, and yes, it is different than what we have come to expect.
It is Debbie's sincere hope that the re-defined art of encased flamework moves forward with patience making allowances while glass artists, as well as museum curators and collectors sample new modes of expression in flameworked glass. Debbie Tarsitano hopes to create a path towards pioneering changes necessary for growth and development of this young field thousands have already come to love. She has moved forward into the 21st century. Hard work, unwavering perseverance, talent, and love have created a rich history built on the efforts of two individual artists -- a father and a daughter.
If you are looking for Tarsitano art glass, you can sometimes find pieces on offer on ebay.
Click here to see Tarsitano Glass for sale now.
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