Before she began working in glass, Leene Hermann sold insurance and investments. “How’s that for a far cry from doing art?” she remarks. Yet she always had a knack for colors, an attraction to the medium, and enjoyed putting things together, so she tried a stained-glass class with her son to see what she could do.
Hermann liked the piece she made, but didn’t find the process very compelling. “I actually put [the materials] in a box in my basement,” she says — and there they stayed for the next 10 years.
She later met a friend who was into making mosaics and suggested she give it a try. So she went into her basement, dug out that same box, grabbed her tools, and started again. “I lived in Michigan at the time, in a house with a large basement, so I converted that space into my studio,” she says. “Before this, I never really thought of myself as an artist — I was just having fun.”
And then she became very sick. “Mosaics saved my life,” she says. “It gave me something to do that was also what I loved doing.” Eventually, she decided that she needed to get away from the harsh Northern winters, so she began traveling to figure out the ideal climate.
“I came to Asheville in February this year, and ironically, it was snowing,” says Hermann. “I actually expected it to be warm because I was in the South.” The snow didn’t last long, but the artist stuck, coming back to take up permanent residence within six months.”
Hermann’s process has grown into a mix of self-teaching methods, trial and error, and experimentation. “Every time I do something new, I try something I’ve never done before. There are no specific techniques in my work, but I am all the time looking for things to mosaic on to.”
She transforms found objects, including mannequins, masks, photos, windows, and guitars, and considers her just completed The Joy of Annie, a vintage recycled mannequin, to be her best piece to date; it took her close to two months to create. (Each piece of glass is hand cut, smoothed, and individually glued.)
The items she finds are put on a shelf until she figures out what they’ll become. “When I start a new piece, I remember that each one is different, so I just take the object itself as an inspiration and let my mind go where it will,” she says, noting, “I have so much recycled glass that I hardly ever have to go out and buy it.”
Hermann’s fine-art mosaics, inspired by the natural beauty of the Southern mountains, range from bright, semi-realistic sunset landscapes to highly textural, three-dimensional abstracts arrayed in tonal palettes. She also makes jewelry, furniture, and home-décor items, including coasters, nightlights, vibrant glass menorahs for Hanukkah, and mezuzahs that encase a little prayer and serve as a blessing for the home.
Once homebound due to illness, she now revels in the open atmosphere of the River Arts District. “Before, no one ever saw my studio at home. Now, it feels really good when others are excited to see my stuff. I plan to stay here indefinitely. If I can just continue doing what I’m doing, I can’t imagine being any happier. It’s what gets me up in the morning.”
Leene Hermann, 348 Depot St. #125, River Arts District, Asheville, open 1-4pm Thursday through Sunday (call first) and by appointment. The artist will have a holiday sale during the RAD’s Second Saturday art walk on Saturday, Dec. 14, 11am-5pm. For more information, call 248-855-4999 or see leenesglassworks.com.