SILVERDALE — Lisa Stirrett, owner of the Lisa Stirrett Glass Studio and a commissioned artist with multiple works around Kitsap and beyond, had never really considered herself to be an artist, but rather, a survivalist.
As she stood in her studio gallery on April 26, surrounded by her uniquely colored and intricate glass creations, the spring sunlight streamed in, making the pieces around her glow.
“I’ll be honest,” she said. “I’d always felt inferior, like I didn’t have the credentials to be an artist. I just needed to create a product to sell so I could stay home with my kids.”
One dead fish and a white T-shirt is where she got her start.
“I’d been studying Gyotaku (the Japanese art of fish imprinting). So when I caught this little rock cod, I decided to try it.”
She applied paint to the fish and pressed it. It was at that moment that she realized art was her vehicle.
She soon escalated to commissioned work at Nordstrom, Costco and the Washington state ferry terminals. Her most recent public commissioned piece — and one of her largest — is a permanent installation of an underwater seascape, hanging from the ceiling of the library in the new Village Green Community Center in Kingston.
Six, 5-foot-long wave-like glass panels required four days in the kiln. Surrounding the waves are three glass codfish, five salmon, and 19 jellyfish, all in a variety of colors.
“I used to be a diver. I remember sitting at the bottom of the ocean just watching the waves above me and this is what I saw,” said the artist, who is of North Carolina Cherokee ancestry.
“There’s got to be a movement and organic feel to it. Glass is stylized, so it was a fun challenge for me to make it look realistic.”
Although Stirrett has experimented with glass and metal for almost 20 years, she said she never knows what the end result of the glass will be.
“Sometimes when we open up the kiln, it’s like Christmas morning,” she said. “Other times, we want to bury it in the backyard.”
After each experiment, Stirrett said she and her team work backward, performing what she likes to call “Kiln CSI,” to determine why a piece of glass had a positive or negative reaction.
She was especially proud of her most recent experiment, a glass sea cucumber (part of the Village Green installation) that free-formed in the kiln to make an organic shape.
Another piece that pleasantly surprised Stirrett was a glass platter with sand from a village in Africa encapsulated in the middle. Even after firing, the sand is able to move freely in the center of the art piece.
Though that piece isn’t for sale, the concept led her to create her “Wisdom Plaques,” glass plaques made with dirt from interesting places. Being customizable, they are popular ways to hold dirt from a special place or hold the ashes of a loved one, she said.
“We’re like a chameleon of sorts,” Stirrett said. All of her projects are either cast or fused glass. While the glass is flat, she creates the shape and adds texture, color and design. After its first round in the kiln, the glass is buffed, cleaned and put back under fire to be shaped.
“I don’t want it to be contrived,” she said. “I want it to be natural looking.”
To accomplish this, she uses materials like sand and water to give her pieces a natural texture; raw metals help enhance the look.
However, with four different kinds of glass, each with their own colorant and firing methods, she said the technique depends on what glass they use.
“We have to think about everything,” she said. “The engineering, safety, beauty, lasting life, how to clean it …”
She described the capricious material as “fickle — like a woman.” But, she adds, “Like a woman, in fire she’ll get stronger.”
Through Stirrett’s artistic endeavors, she has developed a deeper purpose — to create stunning works of art that impact and inspire, while being a globally recognized art brand that empowers women.
She has helped Walk In The Light International, based in Port Orchard, raise more than $140,000 to build a new healthcare center in Burkina Faso.
“A little boy named Mohammad died from meningitis, a sickness easily treatable with medication,” she said. “His family transported him nearly 60 miles to the closest village with a healthcare center. There, he was sent away to another village. When they arrived there, he was deemed contagious and untreatable. He died on the journey back to his home. He was 7.
“Most children, one out of five, before 5 years old die from malaria in Burkina Faso — something that a pill will cure. A healthcare center was needed, and little by little we raised the money.”
Stirrett spent December 2015 in Burkina Faso as a volunteer for Walk In The Light, which invests in clean water and sanitation projects in developing African nations. During this trip, she worked on the new health care center and led a micro-loan program for women who have, or want to start their own, business.
The “Pay it Forward” loan program offers women in Africa the opportunity to receive a down payment and training to start their own business. One hundred percent of the money given as a loan is paid back in full and then gifted to another woman to start or grow her business. So far, the program has funded successful ventures in jewelry, leather, spice, soap making, and pig farming.
“We went to Africa with 10 suitcases filled with medical supplies, and came back with 10 suitcases filled with hand-made bags, jewelry, beautiful fabrics, and beads,” she said. “When you go somewhere and [share their lives], it starts to change you.”
Now, Stirrett is preparing to take 10 women to Africa in October for a 10- to 12-day stay, training women to start their own businesses.
Stirrett, the recent recipient of the Rotary Club’s Paul Harris Award, hosts a charitable organization at her studio quarterly.
She said, “There’s a heart behind everything I do. It’s about empowering. We work to make people feel empowered, to have people walk in and feel empowered — empowering people to be the best they can be. It’s not always about selling art.”
At the studio, prices range from $5 to what Stirrett refers to as “ooh la la.”
“Silverdale is dominated by box stores,” said Courtney Cole-Faso, business strategist for the studio. “Here, Lisa is selling something that’s a conversation piece. In here, there’s a story behind everything she does.
“One of the reasons Lisa is so successful is because she’s built a level of trust in the community. She is trusted to create public installations that are not only beautiful but structurally sound. It sets her apart as a business woman, an artist and a member of the community.”
Suzy Bell, a studio employee, said the studio is “a jewel in Silverdale. It’s an inspiration. People feel at home even when they’ve never been here before, and they always want to come back … Art can do that.”
Stirrett laughed as she said, “I absolutely didn’t have a business plan when I opened the studio. I really thought I would just open the doors and if somebody wanted anything I’d make it.”
Nowadays, between running the business, hosting different charities and traveling between the U.S. and Africa, Stirrett said that’s not an issue.
“I’ll tell you the truth, we’re kind of running behind,” she said. “Now, we’re starting to work on a backsplash, railings, and a chandelier … This is more than a store, it’s an experience.”
For more information or to donate to the Pay it Forward loan program, go to www.lisastirrett.com.