"It's addictive to work with glass. You forget about your body. You forget about yourself."
So says Rachel Shoham, who, every day when she re-enters her studio, remains anxious to check the kiln. Since she leaves things to fire overnight, she never quite knows what she'll find inside: a fortunate surprise or an unexpected setback.
That very anticipation is one of the things she enjoys most: "Always thinking about the next step — and the next."
Holed up in her studio in the East Falls section of Philadelphia, the Israeli-born glass artist often loses track of time as she works. The shelves that surround the room sag heavily with the weight of books, tools and her own artwork. And nestled in the corner of a cabinet are several boxes of bandages, for the inevitable nicks and cuts from working with glass.
Her art is a study in fluidity and color. Shoham uses the glass in a variety of ways, from creating dynamic patterns to conveying subtle waves of movement. Flowing designs grace plates and panels; dots of melted glass are speckled throughout her pieces.
Her path to the world of art was a circuitous one. Shoham lived with her family in Tel Aviv and Rishon le Tzion in Israel before coming to the United States with her husband and three sons in 1977. She first attended the Frankford Hospital School of Nursing in Philadelphia, then worked as a nurse for 10 years while her children attended Akiba Hebrew Academy in Merion.
After the boys left for college, she got the itch to explore the world of art, even though she was unsure of which path to follow. "I was a mom," she states. "I knew I wanted to do something, but I didn't know what."
Nothing seemed to click until she started taking glass-blowing workshops at Hot Soup Glass Studio in Olde City five years ago. She felt she'd found her calling.
What began with glass-blowing developed into the technique of "fused glass," she explains — a type of glassworking in which pieces of the material are cut into shapes and patterns, then melded together under the intensely hot temperatures in the kiln.
"The interesting thing about glass is that it's solid and it's soft," notes Shoham. While pieces of glass can mold together and bend when they are fired, after cooling, they become rigid and immovable. Faith is an important component in the artistic process.
"I cannot orchestrate how it comes out," admits the 60-year-old artist, who now lives with her husband in the Spring Garden area of the city. "I look at it and let it tell me what it wants to be."
Though the glass may not always melt in the intended way, Shoham says she likes the opportunity to work in a medium with unexpected challenges.
"I let myself go with the flow. I have enough order in my life."
Even though Shoham hasn't been working with glass that long, she has devoted herself to her craft fully: "I feel like I need to know everything. And quick!"
Her zeal has also gained her success: She has work on display at the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover, Del. (through June 24), and "The Art of the Flower" show at the Philadelphia Sketch Club (through March 25).
She is also a member of the ARTsisters, a local, nonprofit group made up of 20 women who provide support and motivation for each other; they also help one another find venues where they can display their art. Their works range from painting to woodcarving to sculpture, and as a unit, help keep each other going through camaraderie and encouragement.
Shoham is also motivated by her husband, Uri, and their children and grandchildren.
She has even donated pieces of art for auctions at her synagogues — Ohev Shalom of Bucks County, where the Shohams belonged when they lived in Buckingham, and now at Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel in Center City.