Contemporary Craft in Focus: The Birth of Eve

Capturing a singular moment in time with artist Judith Schaechter

SAAM
January 26, 2023
woman falling from the sky into a bed of flowers
Judith Schaechter, The Birth of Eve, 2013, flash glass, vitreous paint, silver stain, and copper foil, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the James Renwick Alliance, 2015.12, © 2013, Judith Schaechter
Judith Schaechter, The Birth of Eve, 2013, flash glass, vitreous paint, silver stain, and copper foil, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the James Renwick Alliance, 2015.12, © 2013, Judith Schaechter

Trained as a painter, artist Judith Schaechter fell in love with stained glass in the early 1980s and knew she found a lifelong pursuit in this new medium. Beyond the beauty and technical challenges of the material itself, she is drawn to the focus on time that the medium demands. She states:

I also felt in sync’ with glass. When I was a painter, I painted fast and furiously and ultimately threw everything out. This didn’t happen with glass because it was so labor intensive. The tedium factor and the variety of processes allowed me to focus and concentrate. By the time I managed to do something to the glass, I had developed feelings of attachment and was hardly going to throw it away.

Judith Schaechter

Time is a concept that Schaechter frequently visits in her artwork. The Birth of Eve (2013) is part of SAAM’s permanent collection and presents two stacked images. Her technical expertise and the labor involved with stained glass is on display in the lush sea of multicolored flowers, constructed of up to five layers of cut, sandblasted, and enameled glass, stacked to produce variations of pattern and color gradation. At the top, a woman’s naked body shines an unnatural silvery blue that stands out against the dark background, as if suspended in space and time. Together, the images create a tension between disturbing, psychologically charged narratives. 

A woman with blonde hair and wearing a face masks looks at the bottom half of "The Birth of Eve"

Installation image from This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World. Photo by Norwood Photography

This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World curator Mary Savig asked Schaechter about the role the past and future play in her artwork. She shared her thoughts in the exhibition catalogue. 

Artwork for me is a way of creating an instance, an isolated singularity, as record of the moment’s own theoretical existence — like a cross section or a core sample of a single immediate now,” flash frozen for contemplation at another time. In my work, there is narrative, but one that I hope defies any sense of past or present — it is a narrative in which those possibilities are impossible and exist in favor of a sort of eternal present. When I work with the image of the human figure, I imagine it to have arisen spontaneously as it is seen in the image and to remain there unchanging for eternity, suspended in whatever context I imagined for it at the time. I don’t see a story with a beginning or an end, although I think it is possible for others to see a more temporal linear story. I work hard to eradicate clues of history in my work — even the most neutral clothing or minute detail can identify the time in which the piece was created. My characters don’t have a biography. Like dolls, they are there to adapt to the immediate needs of the player.

Why all this insistence on the here and now? Because infinity, the eternal, if it can be experienced at all, must be felt in the subdivisions of the present. And really, visual art is a great way to create that singular moment as it exists more obviously in space and not time.

Judith Schaechter

This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World marks the 50th anniversary of SAAM’s Renwick Gallery by celebrating the dynamic landscape of American craft. The exhibition explores how artists—especially women, people of color, LGBTQ+, and Native artists—have crafted spaces for daydreaming, stories of persistence, models of resilience, and methods of activism that resonate today. In order to craft a better world, it must first be imagined. This story is part of a series that takes a closer look at selected artists and artworks with material drawn from exhibition texts and the catalogue

 

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