Debra Moore’s art is like something out of a fairytale: a glittering landscape of eerily beautiful flowers, fungi, and fruit hanging from mossy branches. Aside from a slight gleam in the light, nothing gives it away as unnatural but its utter perfection.
Moore gives each tiny detail of her blown glass plant life her full attention. Step in to look closely at a flower petal and you’ll see a unique pattern of veins. In the center, minute individual grains of pollen stand out. This quality craftsmanship is what makes her work special, but the contrast of such a fragile material and the tenacity of nature are what give it its power.
The Seattle-based artist sees her sculptures as rooted in nature, but not quite bound by it. Orchids are her signature creation, and they’re perpetually crystallized in perfect bloom, not a petal out of place. Other works include magnolias and wisteria, but it’s the dazzling alien form of the orchid that seems to inspire her again and again. Moore depicts them in many of their usual variations, hanging from wires or sprouting from unrelated trees like majestic parasites.
“I utilize the medium of glass to translate the breath-taking grandeur and delicate fragility of the natural world into a unique sculptural interpretation,” Moore says. “The intricate structure of living things and how they thrive in harmony with each other is explored in my reflection of orchids and other botanical studies. The astounding variety within the orchid family provides endless opportunities for artistic expression with their vibrancy of color and elegance of form. The necessity of the blooms to bond with a strong, stable host — an interdependence that nurtures and sustains both is a metaphor of the human condition in its tenuous and essential relationship with the earth.”
“Within each work, glass is used like paint to achieve depth of color. The material’s inherent ability to transmit and reflect light, as well as its variations from transparency to opacity, lends itself perfectly to achieve desired textures and surfaces. By combining new techniques with traditional glass-blowing skills, and a passionate attention to form and detail, these pieces express my vision of an exotic environment; one that is rooted in reality but springs from the imagination.”
A graduate of Seattle’s Pratt Fine Arts Center and the renowned Pilchuck Glass School, Moore was among the first women to break into the male-dominated world of fine art glassblowing, and she’s known for the clever techniques that help her support the weight of all that glass on delicate branches. She even went as far as to work with a structural engineer and study the math that would be required to expand her smaller structures into full-scale trees.
The learning process didn’t come without a few devastating mistakes, unfortunately. At one point, her first tree (a winter plum) fell to the ground and crashed in the home studio she shares with her husband, a fellow glass artist. But Moore also discovered a secret way to hold things together: faux moss made of a granular glass called “frit,” which she crafts into a sort of glue inspired by liquid latex special effects makeup.
Ultimately, it took her two years to complete her imaginary forest called “Arboria,” which was displayed at the Tacoma Art Museum between January 2019 and January 2020, but the results were well worth the wait.