Arts & Culture

Q&A with Local Artist Sarah Perkins

Local artist Sarah Perkins is often referred to as one of the leading artists in the field of enameling, a technique where powdered glass is fused to a surface through firing.

By Michelle Lewis

Jun 2023

Photo by Brandon AlmsPerkins’ piece called “Blue Mirage” was created in 2021 from silver, enamel and moonstone. Perkins uses pattern and color to further emphasize the shape of her designs. Purchase Photo

417 Magazine: Why do you find yourself drawn to creating work with enamel?
Sarah Perkins: “I started my career as a metalsmith and jeweler. I really love metal and I love the permanence of it and the fact that it resists unlike clay or similar mediums. I realized what I was missing from metalworking was colors. The color palette in metal is quite limited, but with enamel, the colors are stunning, beautiful and endless. Throughout centuries, these colors aren’t going to change like the colors of metals would. Because of this, I see my artwork as my form of immortality.”

417: What is the central theme of your artwork?
S.P.: “I am largely interested in objects of domestic use. While many of my pieces aren’t intended for use, it is important to me that they refer to function. I am really interested in people’s relationships to each other and the objects they use. I think in relationships and at the base of human interactions there are a lot of ritual things we go through that almost always relate to eating or drinking. The pieces I create are objects that relate to intended functions alongside the people who use them.”

417: What does the creation process for these pieces look like?
S.P.: “I begin pieces with metalsmithing; there are several days and sometimes several weeks of hammering each piece before I solder pieces together. Then, I cover the entire surface with enamel. It isn’t painted on, it’s more like working with sand. Unlike a glaze you would use on ceramics, working with enamel is very specific. Things stay exactly where you put them when you fire the piece in the kiln. I fire each piece for just a few minutes until the glass melts and fuses to the metal surface. Once cooled, I put another coat on. Pretty often my pieces are fired between 20 and 35 times. It’s a funny combination of things because the metalsmithing is very physical and then the enameling is very meticulous.”

417: Do you find yourself drawn to a certain style when creating?
S.P.: “The imagery of the enamel work in my pieces varies quite a bit. I’ve gone through periods where I’m really interested in the sort of minimal use of color that allows the focus to be centered on the form of the piece. On the flipside, I also have some that are quite painterly or use a lot of pattern. Each piece depends on the base I am starting from.”

417: What is the story behind your current exhibit at the Springfield Art Museum, Holding Space: Contemporary Enamel Vessels?
S.P.: “I was approached by the Curator of Art at the Springfield Art Museum and she invited me to have a show at the museum. I was just delighted at the opportunity to have a show in my hometown. I was just coming off having a solo show in Memphis and thought it would be more interesting and educational to include not only my work, but work from other enamelers who work with the vessel form. The final show includes a number of my pieces alongside nine other enamelers from around the world. I tried to come up with a real variety of people to show the range of things that are being done with enamel.”

417: What do you think the future holds for you and your artwork?
S.P.: “My goals are sort of being met. My work has started to be collected to be placed in really great museums. This is not only exciting for me but it is also really exciting to see what it is doing for the field. In terms of what I am doing next, I intend to continue working and continue experimenting. I hope to keep producing innovative work until I die.”