Not Your Typical Glass Mosaic Artist

by Nancy E. McCarthy

Felicia Poes had been creating beautiful glass mosaics from tile and found objects for about a dozen years when she took a Corning Museum of Glass (CMOG) glass fusing class in 2011. Designing mosaics with existing materials versus shaping glass into objects in a kiln are very different ways to explore glass as a medium.

Initially, there was much trial and error but Poes was hooked. “We learned about creating pattern bars, slicing them and incorporating the slices into dishes or glass art,” Poes explains. She also experimented with filling spaces with heated glass to create designs. She bought a kiln, honed her skills and is now an experienced glass artist.

CMOG’s hot glass demonstrations, including the dramatic Flameworking Demo featuring torches that can heat up to 4000° F, attracts countless enthralled museum visitors. Poes isn’t quite that fearless: she uses a warm glass technique at more sedate temperatures (up to 1500° F!). Also referred to as kiln forming, the artist produces works in a kiln either by casting objects in a mold or fusing multiple glass pieces together. Poes currently makes garden stakes, solar mushrooms, flowers, wine bottle coasters, wind chimes and a variety of functional dishes and objects in her Interlaken studio.

Poes, now 61, grew up in Long Island, the third child of three and only daughter of a corporate tax attorney and a creative stay-at-home mom. Her mother, a former pattern designer and ardent crafter, taught her to sew at an early age. Her oldest brother introduced her to artistic photography. Poes would also crochet, weave, quilt, paint and bead.

Her love affair with glass would surface much later.

A “Happy Accident”

Poes laughingly recounts the story of how she attended Elmira College by default. She admits to not being a stellar high school student – a situation that was slowly turned around by a nurturing guidance counselor. One day she cut gym class and, to cover her tracks, told the counselor that she had attended an Elmira College presentation at the high school during her gym period. To bolster her credibility, Poes quickly researched the college and was able to feign knowledgeability about the institution. At her counselor’s urging, she applied to the college, sight unseen.

Poes sums it up this way: “I went to Elmira College because I cut gym!”

It was meant to be. She not only loved attending the school, she also met her future husband Rich Poes in Elmira. They married in 1978, shortly after her graduation. Poes had switched her major from Art Education to Business Administration and the degree served her well. The couple settled in Elmira and both worked for the Poes’ family business in nearby Horseheads.

In 1997, the couple purchased lakeside property in Interlaken with a small ranch house they used as a vacation home while raising their three children: Matt, Andy and Molly. One summer, Poes came across a book about mosaics and began experimenting with trivets. Binghamton-based mosaic artist Susan Jablon, an early influence, included Poe’s work in her students’ group art shows. “Susan was my mosaic mentor and introduced me to the idea of selling my work,” says Poes. “She and her daughter Emily are bursting with creative energy.” Jablon is now well-known for her custom tile design business, Susan Jablon Mosaics, and her work is featured in magazines and on DIY, HGTV and TLC network shows. She also designs the tilework for the sets of culinary reality show Hell’s Kitchen on Fox.

Poes continued to explore mosaics. She branched out into 3-D objects such as bird houses, picture frames and guitars (her favorite). In 2007, while attending a Society of American Mosaic Artists conference in Mesa, Arizona, Poes took a workshop with Ilana Shafir, who introduced the style of designing mosaics inspired by, and integrating, found objects.

Marketing Mosaics

Community Arts of Elmira sold Poes’ work and the artist also found support and encouragement through professional development workshops at the Community Arts Partnership (CAP) in Ithaca. “The Art of the Sale,” led by Bettsie Park, was particularly useful – both the information imparted and Park’s interest in selling Poes’ mosaic pendants in her fine crafts shop, 15 STEPS.

“The first thing that captivated me about Felicia’s work was that she could capture a piece of art in a miniature frame. Her color combinations showed a very skilled eye,” says Park. She recalls the tiny tiled pendants were approximately 1 by 1.5 inches.

Park also connected Poes with an agent who found several New York retailers to carry her mosaic jewelry. Poes was initially delighted but began to tire of the tedium of production work. “In her heart, she’s a one-of-a-kind or limited edition artist,” says Park. “And it’s always good to follow your heart.”

Several transitional events came together in the space of a few years. In 2009, the Poes rehabbed a pole barn on their Interlaken property into an art studio. In 2012, they both retired. Their adult children weren’t in Elmira anymore and the couple decided to live year-round on Cayuga Lake. The Interlaken ranch house was demolished to make way for a new post-and-beam constructed home in 2014.

Glass Works

Meanwhile, Poes continued to refine her glass art by experimentation and hands-on classes with notable glass artists. Under Nikki O’Neill’s tutelage, Poes layered and fused tempered glass in shallow molds to make dishes and learned about mold making and kiln carving, a design process. She explored positive and negative space while making a glass mask of her own face during Ki-Ra Kim’s casting class, and bas relief (to create a textured look) was the focus topic during a Richard Parrish class. Now, as a an artist member of the Finger Lakes Arts Council in Auburn, Poes participates in monthly group exhibits and sells her creations at their retail store. Founder/Executive Director Sue Waby, also an artist, characterizes Poes’ work as “colorful, unique and functional.” Popular items include soap dishes, candle holders and “really cool garden mushrooms,” says Waby.

Though her goal is to create art full time, Poes maintains an active schedule outside of her artistic pursuits. “I love lake living,” says Poes. She walks, bikes and enjoys cooking, baking bread and machine knitting. The couple take frequent trips to visit their far-flung children and grandchildren in New York City, Chicago and San Francisco and are regulars at the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Retired life-on-the-lake for this busy artist seems to be smooth as glass!

The Artist’s Process

Poes buys sheet glass and creates designs that are then fused in the kiln. Sometimes objects are cold worked to smooth the edges (a process that might include sandblasting, grinding, sanding, cutting or polishing at room temperature) and fired again in a mold to form a shape. Some items are cast from crushed glass poured into molds.

“Most of the time my glass drives my creative process,” says Poes. “The glass often tells me what it wants to be.” For example, monster face garden stakes are designed because certain scrap pieces resemble facial features.

Making Monster Face Garden Stakes

• Two pieces of the same colored glass are cut to equal size.
• I cut a piece of 1/8-inch ceramic fiber paper to create a slot on the glass for the copper stake.
• The top layer of glass must be level in the kiln or the facial features may slide off.
• To make the top level after putting the fiber between the layers, I add glass pieces to create hair.
• The top layer is decorated with facial features cut from scraps of glass, additional hair is added on to this layer.
• For the monster signs, the main feature are the eyes and teet. Usually these are oversized. When creating the faces I am often inspired to create a particular face based on a scrap I find that looks like a great nose, eyebrow or mouth.
• The glass is fused in the kiln. A very long firing schedule is used because with all the features it is like firing eight layers of glass. It needs to heat up to 1430° F and cool down very slowly.
• Monster signs are fired for 26 hours.
• After firing, the ceramic fiber is soft and can be scraped out of the slot, a short soak gets all the residue out.
• For the stake, copper refrigerator tubing is straightened and cut to size. Both ends are flattened using a bench vise. One end is glued into the slot using two-part epoxy.

Find out more about Felicia Poes at View and buy the artist’s work at her Interlaken studio (by appointment, call 607-738-2700) and her retail space at Finger Lakes Art, 101 Genesee Street, Auburn, NY.