An artist’s love affair with color and light
Clear panes of glass are part of our daily lives; they let in light and visions of the outside world. Maya Travaglia, however, adds color, shape, texture, and an artist’s vision to her glass creations, creating designs of beauty and meaning.
Travaglia, a resident of South Berwick, Maine, was born to be an artist. The daughter of artists, she grew up in New York City’s Greenwich Village and Chelsea neighborhoods in a creative household. Her father made drawings on the bathroom walls and on the floor of her bedroom; nearby, his studio showcased sculptures of rusted cars. Frequent trips to local museums and shelves overflowing with art books opened her eyes to art in all its glory. Her own artistic talent was nurtured from an early age: she explored woodworking, sculpture, and crafting portraits cast in plaster. While studying at New York’s Pratt Institute, she pursued figure painting and drawing, ceramics, and jewelry making, but it was not until she chanced upon a class in flat glass that she fell in love with glasswork.
“I happened to study with Richard Yelle, a guest instructor who took a nontraditional approach to working with stained glass and who had founded the New York Experimental Glass Workshop,” Travaglia says. “He worked in the abstract and the technique he used was simple. He came from a glassblowing background but could not get approval to conduct that class so he switched to flat glass but with a unique perspective. The minute I started working with glass, I was hooked.”
She recalls the first time she went to Bendheim, a New York glass showroom providing glass for architects, designers, artists, and homeowners for more than 80 years. They have more than 2,000 kinds of glass, including architectural, cast, tempered, etched, antique mouth-blown, art, colored, patterned, back-painted, and Restoration Glass. “This place just grabbed my heart,” Travaglia says. “It was the way everyone knew and cared about glass. They have so many kinds that your imagination is fired up just walking around. There are huge sheets of colored glass everywhere. With the sun shining through, it is breathtakingly beautiful. Bendheim’s is like my church. It is a sacred place to me as an artist.”
Travaglia works primarily with hand-blown glass that has been rolled flat. She feels it conveys pure color. “It is a magical material that always changes with the light.”
When she works, she starts with a line art drawing. “I bring in the context of a traditional art piece,” she explains. “I never do a schematic. I don’t work out a color scheme right away either. I let the color come in later, after I’ve found the lines and imagery I want. I actually don’t think of my art as glass pieces per se—it is just art.”
As she works, Travaglia considers the composition, the movement the glass creates, and the lines. She tweaks her line drawings, working to get these elements just right. When she is satisfied with the line art, she starts contemplating how the sketch will work in glass. How will she blend structural requirements with her vision? During this process, the design may evolve again.
Finally, she works on a light box, where more adjustments can be made. As she selects colors and cuts and lays out the glass, she refines her piece yet again, working to achieve depth and texture, movement and line, light and shade. “It’s a labor of love,” she says. “It’s a passion.”
In her work, Travaglia strives to create something unique. “I want to draw the viewer into my piece,” she says. “My hope is that when someone stands in front of my art, it reminds them of something. What that ‘something’ is may vary from person to person; it might be music, a human figure, blades of grass. What someone sees may not be images I intentionally placed there, but as long as my art touches them, influences them, forms a connection, then I have achieved what I wanted.”
The use of color is deeply personal to Travaglia. “Color signifies emotion. It affects people. I think a great deal about one color’s relationship to another. It is completely intuitive.” Her color palette has changed over time. “Initially, I worked almost exclusively with antique blown glass which was then rolled,” she says. “I used a lot of neutrals and limited the number of colors I placed in a piece. I loved the movement that this approach created. However, I’m now changing the way I create movement. I used to do it primarily with line, but now I’m working with different types of glass. I’m buying sheets of glass and using lots of specially patterned pieces to create movement, so there is more color. It’s as close as you can get to painting with glass without actually doing so.”
Even more exciting are her forays into new techniques that will take her art into ever more diverse directions. She recently created her first glass piece that was permanently mounted on an LED light box and wall hung, like a painting. “That approach opened up a whole new creative spectrum,” she says. “I find that I’m eager to explore again. I’ve signed up for several classes. I want to learn new techniques that will allow me to glue more as opposed to soldering and foiling. This will allow me to achieve greater low relief; low relief takes the piece to a place where the glass is not just two-dimensional but has physical depth. You can work with thicker pieces of glass because of the change in technique. I’m also looking into fusing and slumping, an art form where you shape melting glass over a form in a kiln to get the desired effect. I’m eager to experiment with photo transfer and painting on glass—not to create an image, but to create line. My mind is bursting with ideas.”
When Travaglia first married and moved to Maine, she set up a studio. However, life kept pulling her away from her art. She and her husband bought a home and concerns about finances led her to work in a Boston showroom for a furniture manufacturer. Long days and long commutes made studio time hard to find. Then her husband, a popular landscape designer and contractor, needed help with his growing business. Travaglia agreed to take that on, thinking she could work close to home part-time and spend the rest of the time in her studio. “It just was not possible,” she says with a laugh. “Managing the business was a full-time commitment and required a totally different mindset. Even when I had free time I found it difficult to switch from a very organized, precise business mode to my creative side where I need to let things flow.”
Today, Travaglia has embarked on a new life, one where her art has free reign. Divorced and no longer affiliated with the landscaping business, she works from a studio in Rollinsford, New Hampshire, and is eager to see where her new life as an artist leads. “I’ve had several showings and am starting to work on commission. It’s something I’ve rarely done before, so it’s a learning process, but I’m enjoying it. Art has always been the foundation of my life, and like life, I am seeing endless possibilities.”