Water works

People The Arts

March 30, 2020

Charlotte artist Carmella Jarvi shifts from painting to glass-making, including a public installation in South End.   

by Vanessa Infanzon

Artist Carmella Jarvi went through a rebellious period when she was a sophomore in high school. She dropped out of West Charlotte and ran away from home to live in a tent behind Mint Museum Randolph. After 40 days, her grandmother left her a note reading, “You better call me.” 

After the wake-up call from her grandmother, Jarvi returned home, moved to a new school and took up art. She became particularly interested in large-scale, figurative watercolors. She graduated from UNC Charlotte in 1992 with degrees in art and philosophy. She taught art for 13 years in Pamlico and Cabarrus counties before becoming a full-time artist in 2006.

Jarvi, 51, held artist-in-residence positions at McColl Center for Art + Innovation in 2010 and at Atrium Health in 2019. Through ArtPop Street Gallery in 2014 and again in 2018, her work was displayed on billboards across greater Charlotte. This exposure propelled Jarvi into experimenting more with glass, typically wall-mounted pieces inspired by water.

Her first piece of public art outside of ArtPop, The Urban Eddy, was completed in 2018 and can be seen at the CLT Powerhouse Studio (formerly the Charlotte Trolley Museum) in South End.

Comments were edited for brevity and clarity.

Who influenced your interest in art?

Art saved my life; art was my anchor. Terry Baucom, [my] art teacher at South Meck, let me do my work and pushed me in a lot of different directions. I hated school, and if it wasn’t for him, I would have dropped out. He allowed me the freedom to explore painting, figure study and clay.

How did you shift from painting to glass?

Since 2011, I’d been learning glass — going back to ground zero. I had long had this dream of doing public art and doing glass. That was part of why I switched.

Describe your process.

I start out with sheets of glass. It’s all the same brand from Bullseye [Glass Co.] in Portland, Ore. That’s important because you want glass to be compatible when you’re firing it. I use my kilns to fire and melt the glass. Then I will cut it, break it, refire it and then break it, cut it, refire it. So, you’re looking at five to 10 firings for each piece. 

How did ArtPop help you launch your career as a glass artist?

I got my traction because of ArtPop. It gave me the street cred and the name recognition. ArtPop enabled me to get professional credentials. All of a sudden, I [went] from taking pictures of my tiny glass to having this billboard that’s 14 feet by 48 feet. It opened up doors — I get to meet people and talk about my glass.

See Carmella Jarvi’s work online at carmellajarvi.com  SP


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