Marlene Rose takes sandcast glass sculpture to glowing heights

Credit: David Monroe

Credit: David Monroe

Marlene Rose is a pioneer in the field of sandcast glass, a rare, thousands-year-old metal casting technique that was adapted for use with glass in 1985.

One of the few women in a male-dominated field, Rose spends 10-hour days in her Clearwater, Florida, studio where the temperature often exceeds 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity. Her medium is molten glass which is heated to 2,000 degrees and poured into single-use sand molds, comprised of crushed peridot and other semi-precious stones. The labor is as back-breaking as it is hazardous, but the luminous figures that emerge belie the process.

Credit: David Monroe

Credit: David Monroe

Butterflies, horses and African masks are recurring themes. Other sources of inspiration are as disparate as Buddha images and the quilts of Gee’s Bend, and she is not above combing through scrap heaps to source found objects and metals, elements that add decorative touches to her sculptures. Rose’s work has been exhibited in galleries, museums and public spaces throughout the world, but it was her reproduction of the sun for a television show that changed her life.

Rose sand casted the sun logo of the CBS “Sunday Morning” TV series and sent it to the executive producer, who fell in love with it. “Sunlight was filtering into his office and the sculpture started to glow,” she told ArtsATL recently. He immediately wanted to book her on the show – and keep the sculpture. Her segment was viewed more than seven million times and catapulted Rose from obscurity to international acclaim.

In Rose’s exhibit “Covenant of Light” at Buckhead Art & Company through Nov. 13, visitors can see and feel for themselves what inspired the TV producer — and countless others.

Credit: Felix Kunze & Jen Anderson

Credit: Felix Kunze & Jen Anderson

Rose spoke to ArtsATL recently about the alchemy of glass, the joy of parting with things she loves and the business of being an artist.

Q: Glass art is a male-dominated field. Why do you think women shy away from the discipline?

A: I was not interested in doing this technique (at first) because I was intimidated by the physicality of the process. When you’re dealing with 2,000-degree molten glass, it takes a tremendous amount of strength to maneuver the 30-pound ladle filled with up to 40 pounds of liquified glass. Even making something on a blowpipe requires constant lifting, reheating and re-lifting of 20-, 30-, 40-pound weights.

It’s also very dangerous work that requires many hands in a carefully choreographed dance with somebody opening the furnace door; somebody pouring the glass; somebody clipping excess glass off the ladle; somebody handling a torch; and somebody closing the furnace door. The slightest error — from a bead of sweat or a shirt sleeve coming in contact with molten material as it’s being poured into a mold — can shatter the glass in what is a very expensive process.

Finding a studio where you can hone your skills is also a challenge. Looking back, I can understand why the men I approached in search of studio time had reservations. I was in my early twenties, I didn’t look very strong and they didn’t know if I could be trusted with their equipment. Truth be told, I’d only taken a couple of glass classes in college and did not have a lot experience, so their suspicions were justified.

Credit: David Monroe

Credit: David Monroe

Q: People’s reactions to your glass sculptures tend to be instinctive and visceral. How do you respond when seeing a finished piece for the first time?

A: One to two weeks have passed from the time I put a piece in the cooling oven until it’s stabilized and ready to come out, so there’s a lot of emotion around seeing the finished sculpture for the first time.

I don’t know how to explain the level of excitement, exhilaration and happiness that comes over me when a piece comes out right, but the rush is unmistakable. Invariably the pieces that take my breath away are the ones that sell first no matter what gallery, exhibition or art fair.

Q: Is it hard for you to let go of the pieces that take your breath away?

A: When the stakes were higher, studio time was limited and I could not afford to be prolific, it felt like a real loss because I was so connected to them. A part of my heart would go with the special pieces.

Over time, I’ve found the work connects with a certain kind of person. They are soulful, very aware, lighthearted, tuned with things that really matter and attracted to imagery that is uplifting. They want something in their home that makes them feel good or happy to be in the space as opposed to making a statement that’s difficult to process.

Now, when I part with my sculptures it feels like a full circle moment of giving a gift to someone who really appreciates it — which makes letting go a lot easier.

Q: What have your collectors revealed to you about yourself, your purpose, your voice as an artist?

A: For every time that a door was shut, or a gallery said “no,” or I had no sales — right around the corner were collectors who said, “yes” or a museum that was excited to exhibit my work. Each “yes” encouraged me to keep going, reminded me not to get discouraged, and reinforced my passion. When I get letters from collectors telling me what joy they get from seeing my pieces in their personal spaces, I know there’s no better purpose in life.

Q: Glass does not typically inspire a desire to touch, but your work is so tactile that it practically begs viewers to reach out. What’s your policy?

A: We’ve been so programmed to not touch art-work. I usually say to people at shows: “You can touch these pieces if you’d like.” It’s really interesting to see people’s response when inviting them to override their training.

Kids are a little more out of control with their bodies and I never want to contradict a parent’s instruction, but I’ll usually bring a piece over to a child or baby. They are so happy to touch because the surface is so textured and different.

Q: Why is light such a critical component of your work?

A: Light adds a dimension to glass sculpture that changes depending on the time of day, cloud coverage, bright sun, indirect sun — making it a dynamic, ever-changing work of art. It’s the perfect material not only for the way it plays with light, but for the way it remembers the mold it was poured into, has texture from the sand mold on the front and looks like a piece of antiquity that was unearthed.

Q: What is your advice to emerging talents when it comes to the business of being an artist?

A: I didn’t study business in college but followed my instinct to work in a gallery and gain an understanding of what gallerists wanted from their artists.

There was no path for me to follow . . . I’ve learned through trial and error. But I encourage all emerging artists to consider themselves artists, entrepreneurs and business owners if they want to thrive.


Marlene Rose: “Covenant of Light”

Through Nov. 13. 288 Buckhead Ave., Atlanta. 404-883-3670,

Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL


ArtsATL (, is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.

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