Got Tink?Written by Sue Van Fleet | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“It’s all about finesse,” Tink Martin tells the group assembled around a table lined with torches.
Eleven people — 10 women and one man — have gathered at the Toledo Museum of Art Glass Pavilion on Jan. 13 to learn the finer points of creating miniature blown vessels.
“It’s about putting the right amount of heat in the right spot at the right time,” Martin, 51, continued. The result, at least when Martin does it, is an intricate blown vessel no more than an inch and a half tall.
With her pigtails, jeans, “Got Tink?” T-shirt and welcoming demeanor, Martin seems more a cozy compatriot than a gifted glass artist. She and John Cramer, her co-teacher and fiance, employ a mix of instruction, demonstration and encouragement with the students.
“She’s convinced that everyone has talent and that everyone can enjoy learning how to use it,” said Terry Beamsley, the museum’s former assistant director. A glass artist herself, Beamsley left her position to pursue art full time.
“One of the things that we really took a lot of pride in at the School of Art and Design at the museum was the quality of the teaching staff, and we worked really hard to find top-notch teachers,” she said. “Not everyone who makes art can teach other people how to make it.”
At least some of Martin’s sensitivity was earned the hard way. She and Cramer have known each other for 44 years and have been a couple the last seven years. Both were told by the same high school art teacher they had no talent. The teacher even went so far as to suggest Martin might want to bring a book to class or work on her homework.
“Essentially she was saying that it was senseless for me to participate in art class because I had no talent,” she said. “That hung with me for a long time, and I avoided the arts for a long time because of that until my late 20s.”
For years, she said, every time she was featured in the media for her work, she wondered if that teacher saw it.
“But as much as it hurt at the time, it has contributed to both of us,” Martin said. “Having that particular rotten art teacher made us really sensitive to it and made us better teachers.”
The two give classes all over the world, and when he’s not teaching, Cramer has his own career in glass. While Martin works in miniature, Cramer typically blows larger pieces. Sharing their home in Toledo’s Old West End “makes for a very dynamic atmosphere around the house,” he said.
“It’s really nice because our interests and abilities complement each other,” Cramer said. “Our tastes overlap, but we definitely go off in our own directions.”
Going with The Flow
Martin’s most recent accolade was being selected to receive the Glasscraft Emerging Artist Award by The Flow magazine, a journal for the flame-working community. She was just featured in the magazine’s annual winter Women in Glass edition.
Jennifer Quaid, the magazine’s editor, called Martin’s vessels “gorgeously simple,” and praised their combination of functionality and form. “Her work stands out in comparison to other glass artists,” Quaid said.
The award’s criteria included technical and artistic innovation, which Martin said she exemplifies by combining elements that artists typically don’t put together. Her recent work features the melding of metals and glass and the use of photographic images on glass. In essence, Martin brings hot shop techniques — those used for bigger vessels — to the world of miniature glass.
“When I started blowing miniature vessels, everyone told me that’s not the way to do it,” she said. “To think that I could come up with something unique is really satisfying. Glass has been around for thousands of years, and frankly it’s difficult to find something that hasn’t been done to death.”
Her vessels have been used for necklaces and Christmas ornaments, and have held everything from cremains to locks of hair. But behind the beauty of Martin’s tiny glass pieces is an organized, technologically savvy woman.
“I’m kind of an oddity in the art world because for so many artists there’s an emphasis on a free spirit and living an unstructured life. And I’m really quite the opposite,” she said.
Martin was a customer engineer for IBM in the late ‘70s, building her first computer around the same time. She’s an amateur ham-radio operator and used to be a storm chaser.
Now a full-time glass artist and teacher, Martin has had a business plan for the past six years and actually enjoys the marketing end of her work. Just as impressive, she can locate a particular kind of glass from one of 500 cubbyholes in her studio simply by pulling up a chart on her computer.
“I’m not your typical watercolorist,” she said. “I love technology and have an intimate involvement with it.”
Martin worked as a fiber artist during the ’80s and ’90s until she got bored with it and became interested in glass art. Then she pursued yet another career, in social work. She earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Toledo in 2001 and began work on her graduate degree at the University of Michigan.
The Sept. 11 attacks happened in 2001, and she was asked to volunteer in New York City during Christmas week. She counseled visitors, residents, firefighters, volunteers — anyone who needed it. They all asked questions she had no answers for, Martin said.
“These were incredibly wounded, damaged people that I could not help,” she said. “The whole process made me look at my own life. I realized that you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, and you have to really follow your art and do what brings you joy.
“That’s why I went back to the arts. That’s where I’m happy.”
Martin’s work can be found locally at the Collector’s Corner at the Toledo Museum of Art.