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Judith Schaechter talks, Part 2


This is part 2 of a two-part article about our studio visit with artist Judith Schaechter. Read Part 1.

Judith's drawings stored in Photoshop
Judith Schaechter’s computer, with files in Photoshop that store her drawings of heads and bodies for her figures.

While at the computer Judith was demonstrating to us how she mixed and matched heads and bodies on her figures. It was a little like paper dolls swapping clothing and a little like low tech animation. Roberta said “You should animate your works.” And Judith said, “Have you seen my animations?” She proceeded to show us two animations she produced, one of which is now playing on YouTube (and now, here on artblog)! How amazed we were is only to be imagined — this is an artist who works in one of the oldest art materials invented. That she’s highly skilled at computer animation shows her breadth, inventiveness and need to continually make her art new. The animations are a little like her glass works and prints,– narrative, forlorn — but different too. We began to pump her for information on this new branch of her art.

Better Days: Doomed to Obscurity, one of Judith Schaecter’s animations. Music by Doomed to Obscurity. 2007.

“I use Maya. I took an animation course at UArts from Laura Frazure, “an unknown treasure of the Philadelphia art world. She’s a wax sculptor and a genius.”

She took a FormZ course which she said was “for people who are completely “Aspergered out.”

Judith Schaechter animation
This is a picture of another Schaechter animation–this one is about 30 seconds long she said and it shows one specimen in a jar jumping into another jar for a little specimen love fest.

“Compared to FormZ, Maya is an easy program to learn. I was going to do Maya for the rest of my life. Then I got a bug up my ass to do studio glass again.”

This need to make more glass work might have been fueled by her attendance at a bunch of glass conferences this summer:

–GAS (Glass Arts Society. “It’s just like seeing your friends from high school”
–Glass Week at Wheaton. “Schmooze fest of a dysfunctional family.”
–AGG conferences (American Glass Guild).
There was a stained glass forum in Yahoo that she found. “I Googled myself and knew they were talking about me. I’m not above the ego Google search. I used to do it every day.” So she entered the discussion and pretty much took it over, she said. And before she knew it she was invited to the conference.
–a conference at Northlands Creative Glass in Scotland.

Judith's studio in her house in South Philadelphia.
Judith’s studio in her house in South Philadelphia.

Since we were talking shop about glass we asked her about Dale Chihuly’s Pilchuck Glass School. and she said, yes, she’s been to Pilchuck.

She subscribes to the trade magazines on stained glass. She knew some of the people on the Yahoo forum, and said some of them “don’t consider what I do stained glass.” We found that unbelievable since to us her work sure looks like what we think of as stained glass. What do they have issues with we wanted to know?

“The copper foil. Content issues.”

Judith Schaechter Photograph, Scotland
This picture was taken over the summer at a wind farm in Scotland where Judith and her students lay down underneath a wind turbine and experienced something like the Pit and the Pendulum effect. The photo, which includes Schaechter — she’s the figure laying down but whose head is raised– is the inspiration for the new glass piece and the print.

This summer Schaechter went to Scotland to participate in a conference and master glass program at Northlands Creative Glass. One of her assistants restored the Lincoln Cathedral stained glass, she said. The experience somehow caused her to have existential thoughts about her own glass practice–and particularly the solution of putting her glass works in light boxes and not in windows. “I knew the lightbox solution was inadequate. When someone speaks about how (natural) light strikes the glass—I felt like a dufus.” She said the lightbox lights “change the color and flatten it out a lot.”

Judith and Souixsie the cat
Judith, with Souixsie, one of her five cats. This is the bay window in the studio on the second floor.

We asked the artist about where she was from. We know she’s not a native Philadelphian, so what brought her here? Schaechter told us she moved to Philadelphia because she was in love…. And after that we got a family saga that went back to the 1600s and that sounded a little like an East Coast Laura Ingalls Wilder saga of an American family travelling here, there and everywhere as new opportunities opened up.

Part of her family is Pennsylvania Dutch who “started out in Lycoming County… My mother’s a WASP. Her family came over in (the 1600s) on the St. Francis of Ipswich.” Her father is from Italy — Jewish. Her ancestors moved to Warren County in Northern Pennsylvania where “they clear cut the area and then they moved.” But when oil was found nearby, her grandfather switched to the oil business with Phillips 66 and moved to Oklahoma with the company.

Judith's mom's hippo collection.
Judith’s mom was a collector of hippo figurines. The artist made her first clay hippo for her mom when she was in first grade. The little figurine has no legs because hippos are usually pictured in water and Judith didn’t know whether hippos had legs.

Schaechter’s father was a professor & chair of microbiology at Tufts which she relates to her art with its mix of science references (bees and honeycombs, other insects and animals) …and to her mix of arts and crafts.

She has a lot of Yankee and New Englander friends but doesn’t feel an affinity with any particular group whether Yankee or whatever. “I just never belonged to a group. I was never quite Jewish enough or Christian enough.”

Schaechter has a brother and her brother is disabled due to encephalitis which damaged his brain. “He’s more normal than me” she says. He lives independently but the damage knocked out his speech function. Then she tells us a story about how smart and empowered her brother is and that he runs the commissary for animals at the Boston Zoo. Also, he’s a rock climber!

Finishing our talk over Panettone cake (delicious!) from the nearby Italian Market we felt like the conversation could have gone on and on. The artist is warm and witty and voluble. And while she may not feel like she fits in any particular group, we claim her as a Philadelphian.