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Seeking Wonder

Two Artists to Exhibit Fused Glass at Spartanburg Co-op

Two members of West Main Artists Co-op will join forces in May to present a fused-glass exhibit that will seek to inspire patrons to wonder about the interplay of color, transparency, light, and creativity.

The exhibit -- Seeking Wonder -- will be a diverse collection of fused glass works of art by Tryon, NC artist Shelley Sperka and Spartanburg, SC artist Richard G. Debus. It will showcase May 7-June 1, and the public can view it at no charge Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A free public reception will be on Thursday, May 16, 5-9 p.m. during the city’s monthly ArtWalk.

“I am always working on glass, and I am excited about this particular installation in May,” Sperka, a 67-year-old grandmother of three, said. “There will be works different from anything I have yet created. There will be reinterpretations of older works. There will be pendants. I hope all who see it will enjoy it.”

“I hope that they (patrons) see the fact that I like color and that the designs are my own,” Debus, a 67-year-young retiree from corporate telephone services, said. “The most important thing about this exhibit is that it is for everyone to enjoy.

“We (he and Sperka) seek wonder everywhere we look,” he added.

In all there will be about 30 pieces of glass works on display, and all will be for sale. Sperka will present work that will differ from her past creativity, which has been abstract and non-representational. In additional to her past style, she will she present lampshades, curved plates using woven glass, and landscapes that are a combination of abstract and representational. On the other hand, Debus’s work will be in line with his established style, which tends toward symmetrical patterns and landscapes in tabletop sculptures and functional dinnerware. Prices will range from $30 to $150.

“My fused glass art is a conversation with the viewer who looks at the work,” Sperka said. “I say things about my world, my emotions, and my state of mind that I can’t say with words. It is important to me to communicate with the world in this way. I use my glass as a palette, cutting, designing and placing pieces based on color, shape, the play of light, and what I am trying to say. I am compelled to communicate in this way.

“The most important attributes that glass has for me are its transparency and how it reacts with light,” she said. “I create landscapes, jewelry, functional pieces, and whimsical pieces. My pieces are often not pretty. They have intentional cracks and flaws. They sometimes have little pockets under layers of glass. They are organic and one-of-a-kind. I have tried to express my despair about the state of our planet. I celebrate the planet in others. Communication is among the most important things we do as human beings. Artistic expression is a sacred form of communication.”

“After retiring in 2012 , I took a class on how to fuse glass,” Debus said. “During that class I found my passion. Fusing glass allows me to use my creativity while letting the glass guide me. Everything that I make is one of a kind. I love cutting and combining the colored glass and then letting the kiln melt all the pieces back into one creation.”

Sperka spent her idyllic childhood in central New York state. She rode horses, and practiced various crafts including preserving food from her family’s garden. Eventually, she and her family moved to Tryon because of her father’s teaching position at Wofford College in nearby Spartanburg. Her mother, who painted in watercolors, acrylics and oil, was a major influence on Sperka’s slow discovery of being an artist herself.

“I have had an interesting career,” she said. “Early on I worked at a couple of difference radio stations. At one, I scheduled commercials to air. At the other, I wrote commercials to air. I went to graduate school in the late 1980s to get a master’s degree in librarianship and became a librarian at Wofford College. It has been a very fun ride. The best thing is discovering that I am an artist.”

She discovered fused glass in the 1980s and immersed herself in the newfound medium. However, she took a break from art to rear her children. She returned to art in the early 2000s.

Debus is a native of Charlotte, NC but has spent the vast majority of his life in Spartanburg. He has worked for Southern Bell, Bellsouth, and AT&T before retiring after 40 years of service. His love for the creative process began in childhood as he played in the woods and streams around Spartanburg. He has dabbled in many mediums, but has found his passion in glass. He began with stained glass, however he discovered the fused glass process, and now, does that exclusively.

“My love for art started at a very young age,” Debus said. “I remember sitting in church, drawing rocket ships on the bulletin. My mother kept a crayon drawing that I did on the first day of first grade. My grandmother always encouraged me to create. In school, I could hardly wait to go to Art class. I have tried many different mediums: screen printing, pottery, paper mache, oil and acrylic painting. In the mid ’70s, I took a stained glass class and thoroughly enjoyed it. For the next 35 years, I played with stained glass – making lamp shades and suncatchers. After retiring in 2012 I took a class in fusing glass. And there, I found my passion.

“Fused glass allows me to use my creativity and let the glass guide me,” he continued. “Everything I make is one of a kind. I love cutting and combining the colored glass and then letting the kiln melt all the pieces back into one creation. I usually love everything that I create and use my bowls and plates at every meal.”

Sperka has been a member of West Main Artists Co-op since 2015. “The Co-op is among the most supportive organizations with which I have ever been involved,” she said. “The artists are extremely supportive. Everyone helps with the many tasks required to keep a large art space organized and full. The management board has made many, many improvements in the building, has attracted new artists to join us, and has invited artists from the region to exhibit in our venues. It is a superb organization, and I am very lucky to be a member there.” She also exhibited her work at the Tryon Arts and Craft School and Carri Bass Gallery in Tryon.

Debus joined the Co-op in 2018, and it is the first venue that he has exhibited in. “The members of WMAC are all nice and eager to share ideas with all who visit,” Debus said.

“My message is that creativity is something that everyone can access within themselves,” Sperka said. “The act of creativity is an attempt to communicate what you create and allow the viewer to decide how does this speak to me? There is wonder everywhere. Try to see wonder every day. I hope that when you see this exhibit, you will experience a need to examine the work, to decipher what it means to you, and to urge others to come and see all the exhibits that are available during your visit.”

West Main Artists Co-op is one of Spartanburg’s leading nonprofit arts agencies. It is a membership-based venue with more than 50 members, 30 of whom have studios within the building that was once a church, three galleries, a printery, a ceramics studio, and the largest collection of for-sale and locally made in art in the county. Normally, WMAC has three exhibits each month, in addition to workshops and special programs. For more information, please visit online: WestMainArtists.org.