Studio Visit: Nancy Callan

Located just north of downtown Seattle is Nancy Callan’s studio. It is a hand-built sanctuary, filled with comic books and vintage toys, astroturf carpeting, and mementos that keep her company while she works. Nancy greeted us with big hugs and her infectious smile. Next to the door hung a sign: “fancy” written in scripted glass. Fancy Nancy, as she is lovingly known, is acclaimed for her ability to take centuries-old Venetian techniques and complex cane patterns and form them into something fresh. Like Nancy, they are bold, humorous and fun. And they are only as fancy as they are strong.

A sense of playfulness animates all of her work—from her signature Clouds to her endlessly creative spinning Tops, Winkles, and Stingers (aka Bee-Butts). We came to the studio to see her new sculptures — the long awaited Mini Clouds. Tunes by the Nervous Eaters, a 70s punk band from Boston, played overhead while Calvin, her dog, sat at her feet. Did you know that one of her first jobs was as a graphic designer? This was the pre-computer days, so everything was done by hand; the monotony and lack of physicality in this kind of work drove her to doing push-ups in the dark room. In pursuit of learning how to use the computer, Callan was also introduced to ceramics, and that was the gateway to glass. The rest is history. A resident of Seattle for the past 19 years, her work is shown internationally, and she’s earned a reputation as one of the most accomplished artists in the field.

It is always thrilling to walk in the studio of an artist and see how their personal aesthetic is reflected in their artwork and their lives. But in Nancy’s case, it is her personality as much as her aesthetic that is imbued in her work. As we pulled down the driveway, we had one last glimpse of her garden filled with her sculptures. Rainbow plaid, black and white squiggles, bumpy orbs and playful cacti seem perfectly suitable — inevitable, even — in this oasis of color and joyful design.