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reflections in glass
Breaux Bridge transplant-turned-townie Ginger Kelly looks back on an unique, artful journey and the loved one she influenced along the way.
The colorful world of Ginger Kelly is a brick-and-mortar outlier on the antique streets and among sepia-toned shadows of downtown Breaux Bridge.
Surrounded by chic Cajun quaintness, city blocks containing stores where dust is celebrated not swept, Kelly’s glass studio is a starburst of energy and imagination. When the sun shifts and invites itself inside, Kelly’s pieces – vases, pitchers, ornaments and jewelry only scratch the surface of her expansive functional yet decorative all-glass catalog – come to life, radiating a kaleidoscope of color so brilliant it’s impossible to ignore.
And though the space is different, though it’s unique, it still fits this neighboring community of Lafayette. So does Kelly, for that matter. Sure, she might not sound like the people she greets, and her summers are spent far away from the soupy air of south Louisiana – an escape spent in Seattle with her son, Jesse, blowing glass – but make no mistake, for Kelly, this is home.
A Californian by birth, Kelly relocated to St. Tammany Parish in 2005 after spending many years working in Seattle’s renowned glasswork and commercial art industry. Though not directly affected by the devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina, Kelly was one of many metro New Orleans artists to find creative refuge in Acadiana. In addition to forging a fiercely loyal local customer base here, Kelly also educates the community in her craft, instructing frequent glass blowing and glass art classes.
“Breaux Bridge is a great space,” Kelly says. “I’ve established myself here. I know a lot of people. I have kind of a following. And I think people like what I do, and I feel the southern culture blended into my work naturally. And people interact with each other. A quick nod of the head in your direction, or a stranger saying “Hey,” can make you feel at home compared to a place where everyone has headphones on.”
Kelly’s fascination with glass developed shortly after graduating from college and deciding to plant professional roots in Seattle. To pay the bills, Kelly worked as a graphic artist for print companies, but was lured away by the three-dimensional creative experience glass afforded. The early lessons Kelly learned in Seattle are still applicable today and helped forge her signature “functional and sculptural” designs.
“When you’re blowing glass, you have to be completely focused on what you’re doing,” Kelly says. “Whether it’s functional or artistic – and there are so many avenues in each – you have to stay engaged. Glass is so interesting. It’s an art for problem-solvers.
“Sure, I have a plan that I start out with, but things change so quickly,” Kelly says. “Nothing is written in stone with glass, so you have to adapt without warning sometimes and change that plan.”
No matter what Kelly is creating – whether it’s a bracelet or a bowl – her work is instantly recognizable because of the non-uniform way in which she liberally uses color, giving pieces a look that would fit in seamlessly on the set of “The Brady Bunch.” Though her technique and expertise has ripened over the years, Kelly’s love affair with eye-catching shades and tones has been evident from day one.
“Color in glass looks like wet paint,” Kelly says. “It’s great; it’s lush. And even when I look back, and look at how my work has changed, that color has always been there. It’s been a constant.”
Much of the actual glass-blowing Kelly performs takes place during summer sabbaticals to Seattle, more specifically her son Jesse’s workspace. Following in his mother’s footsteps, Jesse has been a key team member for Lino Tagliapietra, an Italian master glass artist, for the past decade. He’s studied and designed both domestically and abroad, so is therefore well-versed in Western and traditional Eastern European glass blowing techniques.
“It’s a team effort, for sure,” Kelly says. “Hey, he’s a big strong guy. Don’t think I don’t put that to use out there.”
“I guess he was paying attention to what I was doing better than I thought, growing up,” Kelly says. “He was around it. I didn’t make him do it. He’s coordinated, so he took to it well. And in glass, you have people who are technically very good – technicians, really – and then you have creative people. He’s a combination of that, and so am I.
“I come from a mechanical family who all had busy hands and always did things with their hands,” Kelly says. “So that’s just in our nature or in our blood. It’s a team effort, for sure. Hey, he’s a big strong guy. Don’t think I don’t put that to use out there.”
On his own website, Jesse credits his inspiration to the icons of his childhood and from meaningful life experiences – a sentence that seems like an ode to his mother, even though Kelly quickly downplays the direct impact she had on her son’s job choice.
“He’s paved his own way,” Kelly says. “I’ve had people say, ‘Oh, boy, I couldn’t work with family.’ But it’s not like that at all. I’ve never said, ‘Do it like me.’ He’s got his own style and approach. I learn from him as much as he learns from me. As an artist, I’m proud of that. And as a mother, as well.”