It's late afternoon and a glass mosaic in orange, red and yellow glows as if on fire. It sits in a chair near the window, while Raki, a 4-year-old rottweiler, catches a stream of sun nearby from his spot smack in the center of an Oriental rug in Altadena artist Leigh Adams' home.
Adams specializes in architectural glass, such as fused glass panels for doors, and creates both representational and abstract pieces.
She describes a glass panel with the tree as a main course; her smalll glass works are the french fries.
The items are part of what she will be exhibiting at the Gallery at the End of the World in Altadena Dec. 3-6.
Adams makes household objects including paperweights, picture frames, mailboxes and art pieces. She decorates shoes and animal skulls. She has several series of works, including Essential Garden Gears, which features glass pieces affixed to bicycle gears (they are ready to hang in a tree on on a patio); Dichroic Mosaics, layered glass in rich tones, and Tree, in which vitrigraph is incorporated into pictorial images.
Vitrigraph is the process of shaping liquid glass with tools. Adams adds the formed glass into her designs; this has become her trademark.
"I'm a pioneer in the field of vitrigraph," Adams said. "I designed the technology. I call it dancing with glass."
She also cuts, grinds and melts glass and has five kilns in her home studio. Large works can take months to complete, but even
small and medium pieces can be labor intensive, as they may need to be fired many times.
Adams uses a lot of layering in her work. For example, she will start with a clear glass disc, add color to it and fire it. She repeats the process several times until she has color on both sides and the hues are the desired shade. Then Adams manipulates the glass, making it twist and bulge into a shape. Finally, she adds in smaller previously finished pieces of glass and vitrigraph.
"It's like cake decorating because you create elements and then you bring them together," Adams said.
Adams finds inspiration for her work everywhere, but usually her mosaics are sparked by a painting or photograph that catches her eye.
"It's usually the colors in a piece which inspire me and I want that color to transmit light because that's what thrills me," Adams said.
Growing up in Humboldt County, she would spend hours in the woods building wolves, bears and lions out of branches, logs and stones. Fifteen years after Adams moved away from home, her mother told her that she would go for walks and look for Adams' work.
Adams studied anthropology at UCLA, then married and had children, settling in the Pasadena area. She taught for 20 years at Sequoyah School in Pasadena and
during that time took a gourd art class with Margo Farrin at Farrin O'Conner Design Studio in Pasadena. Adams did gourd art for 10 years and was invited to study with a gourd master in China. She also began doing basketry.
Adams was teaching a gourd class at Farrin O'Conner when Farrin asked her to take the new glass artist's class to see how it could be improved. Adams made five jewelry pieces and helped design the curriculum. After the class, she would often wear the items she had made and people kept stopping her, offering to buy them.
A year later, she decided to hone her craft by taking a glass class with Shirley Webster. Webster recommended that Adams take over the sessions when she retired, so to become a better teacher, Adams began studying glass further.
"I just became besotted with it," Adams said. "I dream in glass. I think about putting glass on everything."
For the past six years Adams has been the artist in residence and an occasional teacher at Westridge School in Pasadena. She also teaches at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Arcadia, Five Acres in Altadena and Piece By Piece in Los Angeles.
Piece by Piece is a charity organization that began as a project to aid those on Skid Row by teaching them how to create and run a business, using mosaics as a business model. After two years, the students are no longer homeless and have become established artists. One of the Piece by Piece benefactors was a featured artist at the Affaire in the Garden Beverly Hills Art Show this year.
Adams has taught and has art pieces in China, Costa Rica, Mexico and Central America. She recently
traveled to Kenya to do a mosaic installation at the Kitengela Glass School.
"What's brilliant about it is they use leftover glass," she said. "They recycle everything, they all make their own glass. There's melted beer bottles, melted wine bottles. They blow their own glass and what's left over from blowing, they make into sheet glass. They do stained glass and with what's left over from that they do mosaic."
The African glass school trains local people in metalwork and glass and sells its products all over the world.
Closer to home, Adams' "Rainbow Dream Snake," a 1,000-foot mosaic walkway she created with workmen from Tonga including art by local children, is a permanent part of the Arboretum's Australian garden.