When glass artist Lark Abel ﬁrst visited Crawford several years ago, she discovered a blossoming arts community.
“Crawford and Paonia have incredibly talented people,” said Abel, who has been a working artist for almost 40 years.
A short time later, Abel pulled up her roots from the thriving seaside arts community of Laguna Beach and moved to quiet little Crawford. That was ﬁve and a half years ago.
There, on a small piece of property outside Crawford, she rebuilt her business for the third time. “It’s taken a while to get back on a roll as far as commission work,” she said. But now, the work is rolling in, despite the country’s and the area’s tough economic times.
Abel, who specializes in doors, windows and lighting for custom homes, is creating a new gift line of largely utilitarian items, many of which are made from recycled materials.
“I like to work with recycled materials, for obvious reasons,” said Abel.
A year and a half ago, Abel began doing shows, mostly in Colorado, and attends one big show every year in Jackson Hole, Wyo. And she has commissions in the works that are destined for Kauai, Laguna Beach and Hotchkiss. Her works can be seen locally at the Terra Firma Gallery in Paonia, the Creamery Arts Center in Hotchkiss, and in downtown Crawford, where Abel recently donated her time and talents to create the quaint, bright new sign that greets visitors to the Crawford Community Library, as well as those passing by.
Library staff, who worked with Abel to choose the best design to represent the community, see it as a wonderful way to welcome people to Crawford.
“We think it’s gorgeous,” said librarian Kathy Little.
Abel sees the sign as a gift. “It was a lot of work, but I wanted to give one big thing to the community, and I did that,” she said, adding that such gifts are rare. “When you’re a working artist, sometimes you can’t afford to give your work away.”
Abel most recently showed her work at the Altrusa Sugar Plum Festival in Delta. Her next big show will be at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. “I wanted to come up with equestrian designs for the show,” she said. Many of those designs have already been transferred to glasses cut from wine bottles, martini and shot glasses.
Her prices range from a few dollars for a hand-etched glass, to $20,000 or for larger custom works, such as shower doors.
“I feel very blessed because there are a lot of people who don’t have work, especially artists,” said Abel, who is collaborating with several area artists on her latest projects, including metals artist Don Giminaro of Crawford, feather painter Janet Leroy, glass artist Rick Steckel, K Dahl Glass Studios, and Paonia ﬁne wood craftsman Don Newbury. Just creating her glasses from recycled wine bottles, for which she has already drafted about 15 designs, is giving some work to at least four people in the area.
“Basically, we try and give each other work, which is nice.”
Abel plans to take her designs into different genres, such as watercolors for artist’s prints, greetings cards, and textiles, which she plans to incorporate into her gift line.
“You really have to be clever to stay in business as an artist,” said Abel.
In the Blood
For Abel, the arts are a family tradition.
“I come from a family of Danish Craftsmen and artisans. My family has been wood carvers for generations. My son is a fourth-generation woodcarver,” and so is her nephew, she said, pointing to pieces of carved wood and Masonite created by her uncle and a dragon design by her nephew. “Art is just in the blood.”
For 20 years, Able’s uncle and grandfather ran the Laguna Beach Festival of the Arts, a festival which began in 1947 and helped to deﬁne the seaside town as a world-class arts community. Her father, Chris Abel, was a prominent designer and builder in Laguna Beach, whose works reﬂected the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright. Her brother, Gregg, is following in his footsteps, with an eye toward cottage-style homes, as is her nephew.
Able said she began her path as an artist before she had her son, Tim. After he was born, “It was pretty much a necessity because I wanted to make money and be able to raise him, too.”
Abel ﬁrst began designing logos at age 19, and eventually learned the art of creating signs. At age 26, she and her son moved to the island of Kauai. “I have signs all over the island,” said Abel, who remained there for 26 years.
Her only show, a two-woman show with oil painter and close friend Evelyn de Burh, of Kauai, was held 30 years ago at the Kauai Museum.
Abel eventually returned to Laguna Beach to care for her ailing father, then the oldest practicing architect in town. She re-established her business there while caring for him. During this time, she discovered Crawford while visiting a cousin in Paonia.
After her father passed away, “I had to make a decision to stay in Laguna Beach, go back to Kauai, or come here.” That was more than ﬁve years ago.
In 1992, she studied under master glass carver Marci Lyster in Laguna Beach. “She taught me how to do this carving in glass,” she said, pointing to an array of pieces — a set of martini glasses, sturdy water vessels recycled from wine bottles, a Jack Daniels bottle, a night light, and a row of shot glasses — each with a design etched into its surface. A Carlo Rossi wine bottle has been converted into a classy, original birthday gift for a local woman who just turned 90.
On the table, next to a deep green bottle, sat an oval of beveled glass with an intricately carved scene of an owl swooping down to snag a salmon.
Many of the pieces are for her new gift line. She hopes one day to turn a charming little greenhouse on her property into “the tiniest little gift shop on the Western Slope.”
Abel pulls her designs largely from her natural surrounding — animals, mountains, vegetation, seascapes — and often dabbles in fantasy creatures like dragons and mermaids. Or, as her website, abelartglass.com, states, “… she is able to portray an intelligence and sentiment in all the beings that populate her panes, from Dragons to Buddhas.”
While her ﬁnished products contain amazing detail, the detail begins in the drawings.
For each design, Abel ﬁrst creates an ink drawing of her subject, be it a pair of cowboy boots or a magpie. The drawing is sent to Rayzist, a company that specializes in sand carving equipment, where it transferred to a stencil, or “resist.” After she transfers the pencil drawing to the sandblast tape, she cuts the design out with an X-acto knife, then pulls up one piece of tape at a time. From there, she can carve or etch the area with the sandblaster, creating an image that appears 3-D.
Her most detailed carved piece to date, “Dragon in the Light,” was drawn by nephew Tristan Abel. The 30-inch piece, made for a custom home in Laguna Beach, has 1,500 scales. “I would never do anything like that again,” she laughed. “It almost broke me.”
“Right now, I’m just having the time of my life. I’m making money, and I’m doing some of the best work I’ve ever done,” said Abel, who has had to fall back on other work a time or two throughout her career. But if the work dries up, she is working on a “Plan B” that involves another of her talents: cooking.
“And I will admit, I’m working hard,” said Abel, who also admits she would like more time to ride her horse and be with her grandkids.” As far as being an artist and enjoying it, I’m having a great time. I’m just hoping that I stay busy.
“If not, I’ll go to plan ‘B.’”
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