No two pieces of Karen Dixon’s kiln-formed glass art are the same.
Karen Dixon was working her way through graduate school at UAB when she started making mosaics to relieve stress. “It really helped me stop thinking about school,” she says. “When I was working on a piece, it was very relaxing.” The long hours she logged in the lab while working on her doctorate in biochemistry and molecular genetics wore on her, but creating the mosaic pieces with her hands was like therapy. She set up a table for her projects at her Bluff Park home. “It evolved from there,” she says.
The mosaics were a gateway to glass for Karen, whose bent for artistic creativity first surfaced when she was a child. After making clocks, vases and other mosaic pieces, she started to work with sheet glass. Ten years ago, she decided to try her hand at fusing, or binding multiple layers of glass together using heat. Karen’s husband, Tom, encouraged her endeavors in the most clear-cut way he could think of: He gave her a kiln. “He bought me a small kiln for one of my birthdays and said, ‘You need to go take a class,’” Karen says.
She found a local artist, Deborah Ballog, who agreed to let Karen come to her house and learn different techniques of working with glass. Karen also took two weeklong glass classes at Bullseye Glass Company in Portland, Oregon—the same company from which she orders all of the glass she uses in her work.
Meanwhile, she realized working in a lab full-time was not what she wanted to do long-term. She left UAB and opened Dixon-Ballog Glass Gallery & Studio, a fine art glass gallery and kiln-formed glass teaching studio, in Birmingham. She might have hung up her lab coat, but Karen says her training as a research scientist—a job requiring attention to detail and a willingness to experiment—laid the foundation for her development as a glass artist. “I’m always trying something new or developing something,” she says. “I love what I do.”
To look around her home studio and see a sampling of her finished pieces, you might assume Karen devotes all of her time to glass projects, but that’s not the case. She is the assistant director at The Horizons School, a post-secondary private school for young adults with learning difficulties, autism spectrum and developmental disorders. And last February, she started teaching classes at the Birmingham Museum of Art. She’s also a member of Alabama Designer Craftsmen. Her work has been exhibited throughout the Southeast at juried gallery and museum exhibitions, and her many awards include the Maury Smith Award at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Art, Montgomery Art Guild Fine Art Exhibition. She regularly joins the ranks of Saturday morning vendors at The Market at Pepper Place to sell her pieces and speak to people who visit her booth.
She makes decorative and functional pieces, employing different forms of glass, such as sheet glass and crushed glass, along with various colors, textures and themes. Much of her work highlights creatures or elements found in nature, like birds or water. And she loves the color blue. “I like flow and movement in the glass,” she says. One of her most intriguing pieces, named “Remaining,” resembles a boat that has washed ashore. Karen made the boat part with glass powders, including copper mica, and mounted it atop a piece of driftwood.
She keeps pieces that broke or didn’t meet her expectations in a storage bin in her studio for later use. Even something with multiple imperfections can be recycled and re-melted into new pieces, she says. Just as she loves creating flow and movement in glass, the beauty of Karen’s work lies in the infinite chances she has to experiment with a versatile medium.
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