By Sarah Gonzales
It took a latex allergy and a piece of Hawaiian real estate to begin Lise Hoffman on the road to discovering her true calling in life: glass carving. In the 1990s, Lise (pronounced "Lisa") Hoffman was living in Fairbanks, working as a dental assistant and raising her two daughters. Her skin gradually became so allergic to the latex gloves she wore daily that she had to leave the profession.
Around this time she and a girlfriend took a SCUBA diving trip to Hawaii where, on a whim, they toured a condo for sale. The property sat atop a cliff overlooking the ocean and the interior was all "white carpet and lots of glass," remembers Hoffman. But it was the stair rail paneling – carved into glass – that became permanently engraved in her mind. "It was all I could think about when I got back to Fairbanks."
Hoffman had no formal art training, and was in fact discouraged from pursuing art by her parents who invoked cautionary tales of "starving artists." But Hoffman, who admits to being "very stubborn," saw something that inspired her so deeply that she was moved not only to create, but to learn the entire process of creating first. Years in the dental profession had made Hoffman adept with drills, so when desiring to experiment with carving glass she says, "I thought, 'What carves glass? Oh – diamonds!' So I ordered dental diamonds and I taught myself to engrave."
It took much trial and error before she found "the magic combination" of the right tools plus the right techniques to make the pieces she envisioned in her mind. She recalls arriving at the point, "When everything works right and you have that 'aha!' moment when you know what you want to do for the rest of your life." She sold her first piece in 1991 to a gallery in Fairbanks. Since then she and her husband, Dave (a retired business professor who does the "heavy lifting" and hardware store runs), founded Oceanid Designs and moved to Anchorage where they have resided since 2000.
Located in an industrial area mostly populated by auto shops, the Oceanid warehouse features a huge work area with a soaring ceiling. Her workshop would be the envy of any classic car restorer or glazier, but these sandblasters, air compressors, drills, dremels, sanders and kilns are all for art's sake.
She explains her process: first, mask the glass with adhesive backed paper; next draw on the paper, then cut out the shapes with an X-ACTO knife, peeling away the cut pieces to reveal the glass underneath. Next comes sandblasting. Hoffman encapsulates herself head-to-toe in a Tyvek suit connected to an air supply. Donning a ventilator mask she closes off the blast room from the rest of the studio, going to work in a hurricane of silicon carbide.
Often a piece will require many stages of blasting to achieve the varying depths of relief that thick animal fur or textured clothing require. Hoffman finishes the piece with the delicate diamond tools, adding tiny details like dog whiskers or air bubbles rising to the ocean's surface. At the opposite end of this precise detail work, Hoffman creates large-scale architectural art commissions. "I love working big," she says of the pieces she's made for museums and businesses which can be viewed at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center in Homer or at the Springhill Suites in Fairbanks. In Anchorage, Hoffman collaborated with Inupiat artist Ron Senungetuk to carve eight 9-foot by 2-foot panels that adorn the Anchorage Museum Transit Stop.
After a long winter that she says is "conducive to creating," Hoffman is now thinking toward summer. She's preparing for a July show with Byron Birdsall at Artique, Ltd in Anchorage and finishing up a handful of commissions, one of which is for a homeowner in Colorado. No stranger to long journeys – artistic or otherwise – Hoffman plans to deliver this piece personally, just as soon as the road between here and there thaws.