Tell us about yourself!
My name is Paula Mandel and I live right outside my hometown of Philadelphia. I received degrees in Fine Arts (Painting) and Psychology from Temple University. I worked in oils/mixed media for 25 years, creating psychological portraits, never even thinking I would become a sculptor let alone utilize glass in my work. My kids left home and I became a docent at the National Liberty Museum to maintain contact with younger people. I became intrigued with the art form and realized I wanted to learn how to manipulate glass. It felt dangerous and completely different from anything I had done previously as I started taking classes at the age of 50. I got hooked on casting and then became determined to learn every glass technique studying with amazing teachers such as Anna Boothe, Judith Schaechter, Paul Stankard, Jess Julius, Liz Mears, Ken Leap, Lucartha Kohler, and Paul Demarco. I merged my love for trash-picking with my fascination with old defunct machinery and began combining these found objects with my glasswork to give them structure and movement.
What draws you to the material you work with, and why have you chosen the processes that you use in your work?
I have always loved miniatures and toys. I started playing around with the glass parts I created (thank you Jess Julius!!) along with the mechanical parts I scavenged and they started to speak to each other and fit together. As I continue to play, the evolving idea drives the method of glass I use. I can decide to cast, flamework, fuse, cold-work or use stained glass techniques and even painting and drawing techniques as each piece develops depending on the direction it starts to take.
What themes do you pursue in your work?
My themes tend to derive from personal experiences with the hope that they become universal connectors. My sculptures are mostly interactive and center around being a woman, a mother, and in relationships with titles such as “Push-Me, Pull-You”, “Keeping It together”, “Lookout” and “Prophesy”. My grandmother, mother, daughter and I all sew and that metaphor seems to show up in my work as well. My love of music has led me to utilize musical instruments and their cases as a foundation for the newest pieces.
What is your dream project?
As far as my personal art goes, my dream project would be to have some of my sculptures enlarged bigger than life-size in bronze so that they became interactive in a monumental way. I would love to see people playing with and hanging all over my work!
In addition, I have always reached out into the community with my skills and that has led to another goal of utilizing art to help at-risk teens. I co-founded an after-school program for underserved high school students in Philadelphia called The Stained Glass Project: Windows That Open Doors with fellow artist Joan Myerson Shrager. We mentor students while teaching them to design and fabricate stained glass windows. The windows are donated to schools around the world that have had to overcome difficult circumstances (Philadelphia, South Africa, New Orleans, Ojibwe reservation). We are entering our 12th year and received the first annual “Inspiration Award” from the American Glass Guild. Not only have the students’ lives been enriched and transformed, but so have the mentors’. We have seen art enrich the maker and the viewer while bringing people together in understanding and appreciation of one another. My dream is for other artists around the world to become inspired by our work and start their own programs. Contact me, I will gladly mentor you!
If you weren't working in this field, what career would you choose?
I consider myself a maker and would be in a different creative field.
What's something about you that most people don't know?
I love music in all it’s iterations. I sing in a rock/blues band called the “Hip Replacements”.
Why are you a member of GAS?
I feel isolated working alone in my studio. GAS offers me a community with which to collaborate. In addition, it gives me connections to other artists, ideas and opportunities that enable me to move forward with my work in unexpected ways.
See more of Paula's work here