Don Cheeseman

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Don Cheeseman is a glass artist who makes fused glass sculptures, windows, and jewelry.

Don grew up surfing n California so moving to the beaches of Delmarva in his retirement was like coming home. Before he retired, Don was a baseball coach and high school teacher at Georgetown Preparatory School in Rockville, Maryland. He picked up glass art from his sister in Oregon. Currently he is most interested in creating projects with fused glass.

Don Cheeseman:
“I use a technique that is a little different than what most people do, although it’s becoming pretty popular. Um, I paint with glass. So what I do is I crush glass. I’ll heat glass up. I’ll heat various types of glass up to 1300 – 1350 degrees, drop it in cold bucket of water. That completely shatters the glass into everything from powder to, you know, quarter inch chunks of glass. I’ll separate it out. And, with the powders I create certain effects. And with the various other pieces, they call frit, f-r-i-t - frit, I’ll fill in gaps and do various other types of things. Then I’ll build up layers as well.”

“So a piece could be maybe a half inch thick, um, with various layers and levels of glass, various dimensions built into it. So you can get, you know, you can control color. You can control the texture. You can do a variety of different things that way.”

“My own work is pretty much abstract, although I’ll do symbols and things of that nature. I made a window for Georgetown Prep. It’s a Jesuit school. I made the Jesuit seal. I did one of the Ignatius Loyola seal and the John Carroll seal. He was, uh you know, a very prominent figure in Maryland history”

“I do at times do figurative stuff. There is a way that you can embed, for example, you can embed images, um, from photos; or in various ways embed images in glass, and work form that.”

Don has recently done some work collaborating with a Haitian artist who works in metal.

Don Cheeseman:
“It’s a direction I started moving in about a year ago, just one of the things I like to do. And I’ve found it gives me a chance to do, you know, fish scales, you know, behind the fish. Fish scales, to create the fish, because all I’m getting is the skeleton in the metal. And then, the undersea scenery, which is really easy to do, uh, in glass. Because it’s coming through and it actually looks like water and that sort of thing underneath the sea.”

“I did one of a crane, actually probably a heron. I did the background scenery at sunset, with the marsh. I put the green with the glass stringers that I could make as well, with crushed class and various other things behind it that you might actually see in a marsh scene. So, um, that’s a lot of fun as well. I did a, if you look at my Facebook page, you’ll see a twenty-four-foot window that I did. I was asked to help create a spiritual space, a space that get people to sort of move, consider, ponder he deep questions of life, and so forth. And, you know I built this twenty-four-foot window, eighteen two by for panels that are part of this really beautiful space. That’s in D.C., Washington D.C.; a little chapel down in Washington D.C. near Catholic University.”

“I’ve done the black Madonna image, um, for a small chapel down in D.C. And, it’s just a simple figure of a mother holding a child. It’s not super elaborate. It’s very simple. And if I do figures I like to do simple figures.”

“The dimensions of glass when light’s coming through, the glass just arouses your sense of the spirit, uh and that whole world, and emotions. Yeah. I mean some of the topics, I mean some of the things I do for myself are based on my own emotional life. I grew up at the ocean. So, I love making things that are associated with the ocean and with water.”

“I make waves. I actually make waves. I make waves that are actually curling over and breaking just a little bit. Um, I surfed for a long time. So I was around shaped and made surfboards. I apply the same techniques and I make surfboards. So I learned how to make surfboards by watching people make surfboards and I do the same thing. And that’s really fun to do. I like doing things like that.”

Surfing has not only inspired Don’s subject matter. It is a practice that has infused his approach to his art.

Don Cheeseman:
“Every wave is different. So you are improvising and learning every single time you do something. You also have to have tremendous patience because you’re sitting out there waiting. Having patience, having the patience to uh, put together a really intricate piece, I think is part of the whole process.”

“Every piece I make, and this has been true from the beginning, every piece I make is just prologue to the next piece. It’s teaching me something. And as I am working with this piece, and as I am seeing, glass has unintended consequences. There’s no glass artist out there in the world that gets exactly what they intended. You’re trying to control it as much as you can sometimes. Sometimes you’re not, but at times…”

“You want to have certain outcome. But, there’s still going to be something there that that process teaches you. You’re putting it in an oven. You’re cooking it. And, there is only so much control you can have over that process, over the outcome. So everything I do teaches me something. As I am doing it, and this is the part I like the most, I am already thinking about how that inspired the next thing that I want to make, or to inspire the next direction hat I want to go in, not necessarily to repeat the process, but take that and build on it.”

Don Cheeseman is currently living and working in Worcester County where he hopes to build a studio. Find out about his upcoming shows on his Facebook page.