Sandoval Signpost
An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Featured Artist
 

Signpost Featured Artist Fehrunissa Willett

Signpost Featured Artist Fehrunissa Willett

“Red Willow Lamp”

“Zen Gate 2”

“Sunset”

“Big Sky Mind”

Playing with glass:Fehrunissa Willett

~Oli Robbins

Placitas artist Fehrunissa Willett has found an expansive playground in the world of glass. After many years working in counseling, program management, and as a small business owner, she has come back to a medium that grabbed her attention many years ago.

In Virginia, where she lived for much of her life before moving to New Mexico 16 years ago, she studied glass briefly, taking an introductory course at a community college in an attempt to “learn the basics.” There, she began experimenting with traditional, leaded glasswork. At that point, however, her work and family demanded her primary attention, and she set glass aside. Visiting New Mexico in the early ‘90s, she admired the light, noticing that it would lend itself wonderfully to glasswork. In 2001, she and her family relocated here, and eventually the wide-openness of the state encouraged her to finally carve out space in her own life for glasswork.

Says Fehrunissa, “It wasn’t just the lovely art in Placitas; it’s the environment. Virginia is beautiful but so different. The environment is so vast here. It started the internal process for me.” Placitas’ boundless sky, luminous mountains, and sweeping landscape are largely responsible for the aesthetic and color palette of Fehrunissa’s work—which she believes would look very different had she stayed in Virginia.

But in addition to the environment, which she engages with through frequent walks and her home’s wall of windows, Fehrunissa is influenced by her practice of meditation and yoga. Says Fehrunissa: “It quiets the mind so these creative ideas can emerge… Yoga and meditation are a part of my daily life. They have been for about forty years.” So while those practices may not intentionally prepare her for studio productivity, they help usher in sentiments, ideas and imagery.

“For me,” says Fehrunissa, “meditation is about becoming present with whatever you’re doing… that’s what I bring to the glass.” Practicing and also instructing yoga—for more than 25 years—has also proved to be in harmony with her artistic output. Like meditation, yoga silences the mind, allowing for an organic stream of creativity.

Though Fehrunissa often produces a preparatory sketch before beginning a piece, it’s uncommon for the finished product to look like she initially imagined. Oftentimes, she’ll allow the glass itself to take the lead, as she becomes acquainted with the pre-existing patterns within it. Says Fehrunissa, “It rarely stays in a linear fashion.”

Her works tend to maintain a Japanese-like aesthetic and crisp geometric forms—perhaps due to her background in architecture (she went to architecture school). She is drawn to textural things, layering multiple sheets of glass to achieve a textured, three-dimensional effect. After scoring the glass, cutting it by hand and using grinders to shape it, she’ll begin arranging the pieces, building relationships between the forms within her work. Discovering UV glue as an adhesive for glass was a game changer for Fehrunissa, who was happy to move on from the leaded glass techniques that she was exposed to back in Virginia. “When you work with leaded glass,” says Fehrunissa, “every piece has to meet the other piece.” The UV glue is a better fit for Fehrunissa, who often attaches found, natural objects, like rocks, to the glass.

Many years passed between the time when Fehrunissa began experimenting with glass in Virginia and when she found the appropriate time and space to dedicate herself to it. Those years were filled with the demands of motherhood, business ownership, and professional counseling. It was critical for Fehrunissa to exercise the analytical parts of her mind within those careers, in order to “keep all of the pieces in a row.” So now, in her identity as an artist, she has consciously released much of that methodical thinking and made room for play. Says Fehrunissa, “When I went back to glass, I decided it’s going to be play… It’s one of those things where you’re engaged in something and you’re not aware of the time going by. I don’t know if I could do the work I do with glass very well if I didn’t have a quieting process.”

Working in counseling equipped Fehrunissa with the ability to listen, a skill which she carries with her as an artist—now listening to herself and her process. She keeps with her the words of artist Agnes Martin, a lecture of whom she attended several years ago: “She said her process was to sit and wait for the ideas to come. And sometimes that was a long time.”

Fehrunissa appreciates the fact that she is finally capable of waiting, since deadlines aren’t perpetually looming. “Mostly I do what speaks to me right now. I think that’s why I’m able to look at it like play… It's a luxury to be able to do the work I really enjoy.”

As a glass “player,” Fehrunissa has little interest in marketing and branding her work. “I keep experimenting with these techniques to see where I land, though it might just keep evolving. I’m really still, I think, perfecting the technique and refining that.” She concentrates on her mindful process rather than the sale, and gives away about forty percent of her pieces to organizations that she supports. She enjoys participating in the Placitas Studio Tour and Holiday Sale —where you can usually find her in the Elementary School gym—as both serve as a “nice focus for creating a body of work.” Her work can also be viewed and purchased through visiting her website (nisadesigns.com) or emailing the artist (nisa@nisadesigns.com).

Says Fehrunissa, “For me, creativity is a delight. With few limitations or expectations, I try to listen to what is emerging in the moment. I then translate that into color and form by combining the materials in unique ways… It is my intention that my art will add beauty to your world and inspire you to welcome creativity into your life.”

 
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