PUBLISHED: 4:11 PM on Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Glass kiln inspires new twist
Juneau Artists Gallery
With her artwork embraced by Juneau locals for more than 10 years, Nell McConahey, founder of Spiral Studio, is inspired beyond her spiral jewelry designs and shell mirrors into the dynamic realm of kiln worked glass. As the featured artist for October at the Juneau Artists Gallery, McConahey will share her latest glass creations.

"Spiral Studio is always evolving and I try to continually create new work and be awed by the wonder that surrounds me. The ever present spiral is found in many of my pieces. Relating to evolution, I find the spiral to be a source of intrigue and mystery as well as multicultural."

Courtesy photo
  Nell McConahey, founder of Spiral Studio, is the featured artist for October at the Juneau Artists Gallery.
McConahey purchased a kiln last fall and has been experimenting with it since. She has been fusing and slumping glass using molds she made with the help of a potter friend as well as ones her husband, Rob, made for her.

This month, McConahey will show fused and slumped glass work. She will feature a couple wall lamps with fused glass panels, some sculpture, and mostly functional glass tableware. Staying true to her followers, she has barrettes and some jewelry too.

At McConahey's artistic roots is her ongoing passion for found objects. McConahey expresses that working with natural shells, rocks, and other objects gives her a sense of place. By adding color and shape, she establishes a mood and emotional connection. She enjoys found objects such as old jewelry, beach glass and glass shapes.

"Many of my pieces incorporate shells or stones found on the beaches or rivers in the area. Creating lasting pieces with the lovely shells and other found objects evokes memories, happiness or just a desire to gaze. I think the simple beauty of nature's creations is always a wonderful sight. I often use mirrors as they give additional depth to my work."

McConahey harnesses the creative energy by letting it take over.

"Sometimes I will begin a piece with a picture in my mind of how it will end up. Other times I just start playing with color and design and let the creative process flow. When I design a new serving platter, I usually play with colors and shapes that I like and find attractive, then add a twist or that little something 'extra' that catches the eye. I have my own sense of balance and design. I try to use my inherent sense of balance and style when designing new work."

Travel also inspires her work. McConahey enjoys seeing what other people create-whether in Juneau, Arizona or Thailand.

"Just absorbing ideas can be inspiring and gets me thinking what I can do to be more creative."

McConahey is among the few who have taken the leap to full time artist.

"I fell pretty lucky!! I always tell folks thinking about doing art full time to go for it! It does take work and it doesn't happen overnight. You will work harder for yourself than you will work for any other employer!"

McConahey was accepted as a member of the Juneau Artists Gallery in April 1998. She was doing craft fairs at the local mall two or three times a year at the time.

"I had just had my first showing of stained glass. I chose to create mirror pieces mostly because at the time, there was another Juneau artist doing 'traditional' stained glass and I wanted to do something different."

McConahey is one of many people who came to Alaska on vacation, and stayed.

"I arrived in Juneau on a stunning June day in 1992. Since then, Juneau and its surrounding have become home. My husband and I have built a cabin on an island outside of Juneau where we try to spend most weekends. It's a pleasure to wake up to the sound of the surf on the beach, the calling of eagles and the stunning scenery that makes up southeast Alaska."

McConahey earned her bachelors degree in university studies, basically three minors: psychology, business and women's studies, from the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. She took one metal smithing class in college then a couple more after that. She learned stained glass from Carol of Flamingo Art Glass.

McConahey grew up in a family florist business and began to design flower arrangements before she was a teenager--always working with nature and color as the main elements of each arrangement.

"I think a lot of my current style still relates to the use of those two elements, nature and color."

Locals and visitors can find Nell's work at the Juneau Artists Gallery in the Senate Mall Building downtown this First Friday, Oct. 5, as well as year round in the artist operated gallery. She will be at Whalefest in Sitka on Nov. 2-4, and at Nugget Mall the first and third weekends in November. Fans can also find her at the Juneau Public Market over Thanksgiving weekend.