The shelves in Diana Branscome’s studio are filled with an array of neatly arranged, empty bottles of different colors and qualities – all awaiting transformation. They come from various sources, including restaurants, friends, and people who appreciate Bombay Sapphire gin almost as much as the artist appreciates its container. There’s a workbench, tools, buckets of glass pieces lying in wait, and a gleaming stainless steel kiln in her studio, located in the Beck-Cohen building in Downtown Charlottesville. Oh, and there’s a hula-hoop, which comes in handy for working out the spinal kinks after sitting at the bench for a while!
Diana Branscome came to Charlottesville from Northern Virginia to attend UVA, and like many graduates, decided to stick around. After earning her law degree, she worked as a legal analyst for nearly a decade, but found that she needed an outlet for her creative energy. Branscome started making jewelry using semi-precious stones, and became interested in working with glass as a medium after a visit to The Glass Palette almost a decade ago – and was hooked. When her employer downsized and phased out her department, Branscome decided the time was right to become a full-time jewelry artist. Her jewelry displays started to include more of her glass work, and eventually the gemstones gave way to glass pieces.
Branscome frequently creates commissioned pieces, sometimes using a bottle with special significance — a pendant made from a wine bottle saved from a romantic weekend in Napa, or a centerpiece bowl made from the glass tile remnants from the custom backsplash in a gourmet kitchen.
The process starts by breaking up the bottles into pieces, which is much more labor intensive than you might think. How hard can it be to break a bottle, after all? In order to work with the glass, it needs to be cut, not broken. Branscome uses a tool called a wheeled glass nipper – a hand tool that will cut glass into tiny fragments – which can then be arranged and fused together. To make her signature ‘Ice Bowls’, thousands of these glass fragments are cut by hand, laid out and fired in the kiln to form a disc, and then fired a second time on a mold that will give the finished piece its desired shape. The finished pieces are beautiful, functional, and unique.
Branscome Glass can be found at the Charlottesville City Market most Saturday mornings, and many pieces are available for sale at C’ville Arts, an artists’ cooperative on the downtown mall, where Branscome is a working member. Her work can also be found at numerous galleries in Virginia, and at various locations across the US and in Canada, and on her website: branscomeglass.com.