Artist Profile

  • Aurora Raven Aurora Raven
  • Aurora Over Waldorf Aurora Over Waldorf
  • Wall tile Wall tile
  • Fence Panel Fence Panel Landscape design by Inspiring Spaces Alaska
  • Fence Panel Fence Panel Landscape design by Inspiring Spaces Alaska
  • Fence Panel Fence Panel Landscape design by Inspiring Spaces Alaska
  • Poppy Poppy
  • Wall Sconce Wall Sconce
  • Wall Sconce Wall Sconce
  • Salmon Platter Salmon Platter
  • Raven tiles Raven tiles
  • Pin Pend Bear Pin Pend Bear
  • Moose at the Glass Gate Moose at the Glass Gate
  • Glass Gate Glass Gate
  • Copper Sushi Plates Copper Sushi Plates
  • Blue Wave Blue Wave
  • Museum Art Museum Art
  • Abstract in Stand Abstract in Stand
  • Copper Octopus Platter Copper Octopus Platter
  • Raven Platters Raven Platters
  • Magic 8 Ball Platters Magic 8 Ball Platters
  • Raven Platter Raven Platter
  • Mill Circles Mill Circles
  • Wedding Topper Wedding Topper
  • Silver Glass Spiral Bracelet Silver Glass Spiral Bracelet
  • Ring Ring
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Tam Johannes

Artist Profile Story by Jamey Bradbury

"Today's a fish eye day," says multi-media artist Tam Johannes, by way of introduction. A tour of her studio clears up the confusion: Johannes lifts the lid of her kiln to reveal several rectangular glass plates – part of her "Aurora" series. Each plate features the profile of a salmon, set against a background of blues, greens and purples that recall the northern lights.

Each salmon's eye is a smooth glass bead, made using a fusing method Johannes devised to imitate millefiori, an Italian glasswork technique that creates vividly patterned discs of glass.

Johannes' studio has the playful atmosphere that hints of someone who isn't afraid to experiment. Tools and materials are organized on shelves, with multiple projects being in various stages of completion. "I love seeing all my materials and supplies," says Johannes. "Seeing everything inspires me to go where I probably wouldn't otherwise."

Making use of what's available is a source of inspiration for the former owner of Killer Designs. When she closed her downtown Anchorage studio almost four years ago, Johannes found herself left with a large supply of powdered glass. "I thought: What am I going to do with all this? I started using the powders in a way that creates a watercolor wash. Glass is a liquid medium; as the powdered glass melts in the kiln, it moves around and flows together, creating the aurora effect."

The popularity of the Aurora series has created a new, albeit good, problem: "It backfired on me because eventually I ran out of powder, but people still want the Aurora pieces."

That Alaska-themed series (other pieces feature ravens and moose) is just one part of a thriving wholesale business that allows Johannes to work from her home studio, freeing her from the obligations of operating an open-to-the-public gallery.

Although she values her new freedom – which allows her to spend time with her 8-year-old son and to start each day playing her accordion for an hour – Johannes makes it clear that working at home doesn't mean she spends her days doing whatever she wants. "It's rare that I get to work on exactly what I'd like to," she says. "I have orders, I have deadlines. It's a business."

Her customers find her work at 200 galleries across all 50 states (plus Canada and Europe) and are attracted to both its functionality and the playful shapes and eye-popping colors Johannes employs. Picking up a tray fused with copper, Johannes explains how this piece can be displayed on a kitchen wall, but "I use them as chilling plates, too. You put it in the freezer, then when you're ready to put out some cheese or appetizers, the plate keeps the food cool."

Johannes likens her glass creations to the quilts her mother made. "What I do now is very much like quilting: making all the component parts, re-cutting and combining to make more complex pieces." She has worked in clay, fiber and metal – she's a silversmith whose glass-and-silver jewelry can be both intricate and delightfully chunky – but developed a fascination with glass blowing that led to a summer fellowship in California. She quickly learned that "hot" glass, in which glass is heated up to 2000 degrees, was not for her.

"It's heavy, hard work. And it's constantly hot," Johannes explains. "But more than anything, I liked working alone. Working on a team in that environment, you have to depend on someone else to do their part. Fusing glass using a kiln became a way for me to experiment and work on my own."

Her experiments have resulted in delicate-looking wall sconces, a whimsical cake topper for a wedding, and panels of glass and copper, fused together and built into a wooden fence, where the warm metal can catch the fading Alaska sunlight.

Her desire not to let anything go to waste has also inspired her to melt down wine bottles – like the ones that fill a sink in her studio. "Those aren't all mine, I swear," Johannes says. Friends and family drop the bottles off outside her fence, knowing that Johannes will recycle them by firing the glass in a mold to create simple but practical "boats," which can be used as functional serving dishes and are a popular gift among her customers.

Still, she wonders what her neighbors think of the bags full of wine bottles that regularly appear outside her fence. "I hope they understand – it's all in the name of art."

For more about the artist and her work, visit