Established Glass Artist Turns Over a Quirky New Leaf

Not leaving her work behind
Deb Williams continues to make the cast-glass leaves she’s known for, but has also started creating in other directions, including free-form vessels (right) and deeply whimsical animal sculpture. Photos by Jack Robert.

Growing up on the outskirts of Cheyenne, Wyoming, Deb Williams found some curious sources of entertainment. While her friends may have been inside watching cartoons or outside playing cops-and-robbers in the arid plains, Williams could be found lining up colored glass bottles along a brick wall flanking her backyard. 

“I would put a green bottle behind a yellow one or a blue bottle behind a green one,” she remembers. “I would then watch as sunlight hit the array of shapes and colors.”

When this activity grew tiresome, she collected leaves from bur oaks, quaking aspens, boxelder maples, and other high-elevation Western species, holding each specimen to the sun to discern the peculiar venation patterns. 

Once she had properly studied the leaves, the grade-schooler would splay them on her bedroom dresser and watch as each shriveled and shrank, becoming a desiccated version of its former self. 

Clockwise from top left
Aquatic (from the series “Spellbinding Blossoms”), Earl Loves a Little Bling, and an example of the leaf molds that can weigh up to 75 pounds.

Fast forward several decades, and everything is different now — up to a point. Williams is married and lives in Asheville, some 1,500 miles from the prairies of her youth. Over the years, she has nurtured careers in three unrelated fields: interior design, sign-language interpretation, and types of divination/energy work. (She mentions she never works on an art piece when she’s in a bad mood because she doesn’t want that feeling to affect the work and carry over to its potential owner.) 

And yet, despite all these changes, Williams continues to play with glass and leaves. 

“Everything has come full circle for me,” the artist shares from her home studio. It’s here that Williams fabricates cast-glass leaves — delicately intricate replicas of arboreal beauties she finds along local trails. She began making these glass sculptures about 20 years ago when she and her husband relocated to rural Oregon. 

“I needed something to keep me busy, so I took a stained-glass class,” says Williams. “I didn’t love it.” 

However, when she took a casting-glass workshop shortly after, everything clicked into place. “It was all so intriguing,” she says. “I have never looked back.” 

Sunfire (from the Spellbinding Blossoms series)

But she has started looking forward — considering, specifically, how her creative style may have to evolve with age. “My process can be very stressful on the body,” Williams explains. “Some molds weigh as much as 75 pounds.”

Intent on exploring creative endeavors that are less physically taxing, the glass artist has segued into the realm of mixed-media sculpture, producing fantastical effigies of plants and animals using glass, metal, and other materials. These pieces will be featured in Anomalies, a solo show opening in October at Mark Bettis Gallery in the River Arts District. 

“The exhibition will have a carnival feel to it,” Williams notes. She mentions a two-headed snake and a deer with piercings and glass hanging from its antlers. “Every piece will be strange, like something you’d see in a sideshow.”

According to Williams, creating these quirky creatures — many of them inspired by time spent people-watching — has been great fun. She won’t stop casting glass leaves, she assures.

But right now, “I’m simply stepping out and playing in a different way.”

Deb Williams, Asheville, and on Instagram. Williams is represented by Mark Bettis Gallery and her solo show, Anomalies, will open on Friday, Oct. 13, 5:30-7:30pm at the gallery’s River Arts District location (123 Roberts St., . Guests are encouraged to wear Halloween costumes and circus-themed apparel for the reception. The show runs through Saturday, Oct. 21.

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