The Herald Bulletin

September 28, 2013

Bringing the outside in

Insects become inspiration for glass artist Stephanie Cochran

By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin

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ANDERSON – Fire and sand. Light and shadow. Fluid and brittle.

From artist Stephanie Cochran’s mind to the simultaneously individual and collective effort of producing glass art, her work literally flows, morphs, solidifies and glows. In the end, it speaks.

The 3D sculptor’s current focus is insects that she uses as metaphors for social subjects, ecological issues and personal history. Cochran brings the outside in with her ants, spiders, mosquitoes, even dung beetles, inhabiting interior spaces while speaking Cochran’s truths and questions.

In its transformative nature, the glass with Which Cochran works is indeed an apt metaphor for a woman on a journey. It’s a journey that only seems to be picking up speed.

“I don’t want to wind down,” The artist, educator, wife and mother speaks with a calm energy.

There’s no evidence of any winding down. Cochran’s latest waypoint, at age 51, is her recently earned bachelor of arts degree in art from Anderson University, nicely punctuated with the collaborative “Open Studio” show at the Jessie C. Wilson Galleries on campus. Now, she will pursue her master of fine arts in sculpture and glass at Ball State University where she has already been auditing classes.

“I want to be one of those really fortunate people that gets to make art,” says Cochran. Her preferred medium, glass, conveys her curiosity about life itself.

“The line between life and death is light,” says Cochran. “Light gets in the glass…it acts like a living thing that holds light.”

A fork in the path

Cochran’s unfolding as an artist came as a surprise on the heels of a career as a wife and mother, managing a herd of goats, making soap, and educating special needs students. As a mature adult, Cochran went to Anderson University with the idea of finishing up a degree in the education field, having discovered she had a gift for working with children with disabilities.

Fate got in the way in the form of Jo DuMontelle, associate director of the career development center at Anderson University.

“She changed my whole direction,” says Cochran. “She is really masterful at what she does.” What DuMontelle did was to explore Cochran’s career indicators via a battery of tests and interviews. The results were unexpected.

“I needed more risks … to keep me interested,” Cochran discovered. She also learned, “I had an affinity for glass.”

DuMontelle counseled Cochran to be her best self. After being responsible for decades to the needs of others, Cochran realized it was time to take care of what she needed to do herself.

“You being the best you is the best thing you can do for your family,” Cochran learned. “Your family needs to see you being your best self.”

Cochran’s husband, Myron, teaches photography and jewelry at Pike High School in Indianapolis. He admits, “When she went into glass, it was a total surprise.”

Surprised or not, he was on board. “Supporting her 100 percent just made her happier and strengthened our marriage…. She’s a real inspiration to me.”

The revelation came at an interesting point in time. It was five years ago, when Cochran’s two children were also going to college at Anderson. The family was picking up and moving to urban Anderson, after living a country life near Noblesville for years.

During their first year in Anderson, Cochran’s sister passed away, and the Cochran’s 13-year old niece suddenly became their new daughter.

If all that wasn’t enough tumult, Cochran and her husband also purchased a derelict historic home in Anderson at a sheriff’s sale.

“It was total financial suicide,” says Cochran. They’ve been renovating the place ever since, doing the work themselves. This year, the family plans to move in. Cochran isn’t second guessing the decision.

“People need to be committed to this community in a real way,” she says. “I think the house thing’s been good….It’s slow. It’s a hard commitment. It’s a good testimony to investing in your community.”

She’s engaged the community in other ways, including her role as one of the teachers at the Anderson Center for the Arts.

“We’re very thankful to have her, she has a good ability to take a look at where people are and help them grow and challenge them,” said Deborah Stapleton, director of the center. Stapleton has a great appreciation for Cochran’s work. “I think one of the things that’s exciting about her work is her constant experimentation and wanting to develop new techniques and combinations of how to use materials together,” said Stapleton. “She works with it, manipulates it, and comes out with these wonderful juxtapositions of things.”

People on the path

Despite the massive upheavals, Cochran’s stayed joyfully committed to her new path.

“Do you know how many people I’ve met? It’s amazing,” says Cochran. “I know people now I never would have met. Those moments in time are worth living for.”Although her journey as an artist is individual, she also sees it as a collaborative endeavor.

“If you blow glass, it’s almost impossible to do by yourself. It keeps you humble. You have to rely on other people,” says Cochran.

As for the numerous people and academic professionals at Anderson University and Ball State that have impacted Cochran on her journey, Myron says, “It’s like facets on a gem stone. Each one helped her learn something about herself.”

One of those people was Brent Cole, associate professor of glass at Ball State University and director of the Glick Center for Glass. He encouraged Cochran to illuminate her art with her own narrative – her questions, her fears, her processing of issues both intensely personal and socially relevant.

“He’s a proponent of exploring your personal story in your work.” Cochran says that the value in the art lies in sharing that story. “That’s the gift of good art.”

“My job was just to help her kind of tweak out what she wanted to elicit from the viewer,” says Cole. “She has a lot of life experience to draw from. She’s got a lot of resources to tap into.” He anticipates that Cochran’s work will garner more and more acclaim, and he’s curious to see where her artistic explorations will take her.

Bugs and the big questions

Those personal stories wind their way through Cochran’s collection of insect works. Her installation called “Community” is composed of oversized ants climbing diagonally up a wall.

“It’s about me and different social structures, church, school, work, family - the attributes of working together but the destructive nature of groups sometimes,” says Cochran. The artist draws parallels between ant activity and human social structures as she gazes at her work. She thoughtfully asks, “Where am I in that?”

In approaching her work, “DDT, A Third World Problem,” Cochran observes, “That is just such a creepy, glowy thing.” The piece asks us to consider the environmental effects of DDT via a menagerie of menacing-looking mosquitos and an eerily lit industrial barrel. The work incorporates rebar, aluminum window channel, an antique bug sprayer, and, of course, glass.

“I got to do the whole gamut – cast, fused and blown,” says Cochran. She was equally delighted with the metals in her piece. “I became fascinated with what the welder did when I used it improperly. It’s art- it’s not welding anymore.”

In a work called “Price of Progress,” dung beetles formed from toy pieces and buffing brushes crawl across a shiny ebony plane, evoking a stark image.”This is about the oil sands – oil extraction in Canada.” Cochran said it was inspired after seeing photos of the devastation to the land. “I was speechless. They had completely taken the entire ecosystem and squeezed it for oil – and I’m a part of that.” She gazes at her work. “It’s just me kind of being silenced by what my role is in it.”

It’s those questions about herself and her role in the world that seem to drive Cochran and her art.

“When you go through your own journey… a lot of time you feel like you’re alone. I think the gift of art … is that you’re not alone. When an artist tells the truth like that … you can feel a kind of camaraderie in your journey,” says Cochran. “We’re all on a journey and we’re going to do our best,” says Cochran. Despite the inevitable struggles life delivers, the pragmatic artist asserts, “There are no do-overs, keep moving.”

Like Nancy Elliott on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @NancyElliott_HB, or call 640-4805.