"Out of the Vault: Soundtracks" with Michael Sherrill

Michael Sherrill. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Making art from glass is time-consuming. It is an undertaking that can unfold over hours, but more often takes place over days, weeks, or even months. A great music playlist can be essential to keeping focused and staying creative. These playlists were the starting point for our exhibition Out of the Vault: Soundtracks. MOG curator Katie Buckingham sat down with Michael Sherrill to learn more about his work and creative process.

Michael Sherrill (American, born 1954). Brightly Hidden, Made at the Museum in 2010. Hot-sculpted and flameworked glass, forged bronze, and laminated colored porcelain; 23 x 19 x 18 in. (58.4 x 48.3 x 45.7 cm). Collection of Museum of Glass, Tacoma, Washington, gift of the artist (VA.2013.71). Photo by Duncan Price.

KB: I’ve been looking forward to this conversation – your playlist is one that visitors have been listening to a lot in the gallery. Tell us about the music you like to listen to.

MS: Well, music has been a big part of my life, period. I grew up with an older brother who was always turning me on to obscure bands from Britain. He would be the first person to tell me about bands like the BeeGees (before the disco stuff), or The Zombies, or anything off beat. I was 12-13 years old when The Beatles arrived in America. I remember that Christmas, all I asked for was all The Beatles albums that had been released up to that point. (The albums then were like $3.75 a piece, so they were relatively cheap Christmas presents). I loved music from the beginning. Even when I didn't have a lot of money, I always found enough to buy music.

KB: How does music relate to your work as an artist?

MS: Music is one of those things that is so much like making sculptures. It has that ability to communicate something without being totally literal. I really appreciate that. I like everything from rock ‘n roll to alternative, old jazz, new jazz. There's nothing that I don’t enjoy.

The way that song gets stuck in your soul, that stickiness is something that I hope my artwork has. Like listening to a great song, art should take people away from the present, and towards somewhere to think, to ponder. These days, I’m into Miike Snow or Chet Baker. But, in coming of age with bands like The Beatles, their music has a similar vein. Music can be sophisticated, smart, sometimes simple, sometimes complex. I've always been drawn to that. And my art, I think, reflects that. If I have made something literal, like a platform, I want to have an underneath kind of aesthetic, like the rhythm below the melody. If you really think about it, and absorb it, the work has another dimension.

KB: Is there anything on your playlist that has the same “stickiness” as Brightly Hidden?

MS: Yeah, I would say so. Songs like, “Burial” by Miike Snow or “Farmers Trust” by Pat Metheny Group remind me of the energy in Brightly Hidden. Those are just incredible earworms for me. They take me somewhere.

KB: I'd love to hear more about your residency at MOG and making Brightly Hidden.

MS: When I came in, I had this crazy idea of doing these snakes. Ben [Cobb] and Gabe [Feenan] were incredible on figuring out how to engineer the snake slither. Conceptually, we had to figure out how it would work and what the limitations were. I love that process, I love the collaborative. I'm not a full-time glass person. I do some flameworking and have spent time at other studios like Penland. But, having the expertise of your team, who I think are some of the most versatile glass artists in the world because they work with so many people, was invaluable.

I came in with just this one simple idea: snakes. We had started to form it, and what came out - and out of the gloryhole - was unwieldy and crazy. They did it. They did an amazing job pulling that off. I mean, the Team was nothing short of amazing.

KB: As an artist who uses many materials (like porcelain and metal), how do you approach a residency like the one you had at MOG? Did you have a vision for the way the glass snake would fit into the complete sculpture?

MS: Yes, I had rough conceptual plan, of a little green snake, a bright spot on a dark metal branch. But I built the rest of the sculpture after the residency, to take advantage of the drama of the glass compared to everything around it. I wanted to capture that drama.

KB: Where do you look for inspiration?

MS: I start by being captivated. When something has an impact on me, that provokes the idea. I think I’m like a songwriter in that way, trying to capture an emotional response or story. They communicate through music, and I communicate through visual objects. To me, it's that simple. It is a natural sort of call and response, if you want to put it in old gospel ways. A call and then my response.

Michael Sherrill working in his studio. Photo courtesy of the artist.

KB: And how to you push through your creative process when you are stuck on an idea?

MS: Well, I would say at this stage of my life, I have this problem less and less. But I wouldn’t call it a creative block, I would call it approaching a creative breakthrough. I think you need to be on the lookout fo  a point where you know you can do better, or a place that you know you should be going to next. If you look at it that way, it is not a block. It really is that step forward into something that kind of keeps you engaged and present with your work.

KB: As you look forward to new work and ideas, what is on the horizon for you?

MS: For the last two years, I’ve been working on a large-scale installation, Broken Beauty, which you can see on my website. I am also looking forward to working on new projects, now that we appear to be re-emerging from the pandemic. And with our re-emergence, I’m looking forward to more music and more live music. Music is something that will always be a part of my life, and getting to go to concerts again has been completely invigorating.

Check Michael Sherrill’s playlist on Spotify and visit us at Museum of Glass to see more of our collection featured in Out of the Vault: Soundtracks.

About the Artist:
The son of an inventor/motorcycle racer and warrior princess/homemaker, Michael Sherrill has lived in the western North Carolina mountains since 1974. He considers himself a materials-based artist experimenting primarily in the media of metal, clay, and glass. At the heart of his interest is the intersection of where humans and materials meet in both handmade objects and the natural world. Michael’s work is in several public collections including the Smithsonian’s Renwick Museum of American Craft, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Mint Museum, the Museum of Art and Design, Corning Museum of Glass, and Museum of Glass in Tacoma, WA, among others. In 1993, the Year of Craft, Michael was selected for the White House collection, which traveled to venues around the United States. Most recently Michael was honored by the James Renwick Alliance as the 2019 Master of the Medium, Clay.