In a way, when Bullseye’s Larisa Palmentere creates a kilnformed glass tabletop, she’s engaged in an argument with people from all across history.
Take, for example, her argument with contemporary society and our stereotypes about art glass. For us, she makes work that is durable and practical.
“People still think of glass artistry as fragile. But it doesn’t have to be,” Palmentere insists. “Kiln-glass is an incredibly tough material. That’s why I continually turn to making tables and countertops; it’s my attempt to remove the stigma of fragility that’s attached to the material. With a skilled maker and a proper annealing cycle, it can last for centuries. It won’t crack. Its color won’t fade. And I’m not talking about pieces that live on a shelf. I’m talking about things that get used everyday, things that get chopped on, eaten on, functional things that can live outside.”
According to Palmentere, the glass-as-delicate stigma isn’t confined to general society. Even expert glass artists underestimate its strength. She points to the Netflix glassblowing hit, Blown Away. “One of the women began discussing how fragile glass was and I started yelling at the TV. The fact that you can heat it, cool it, reheat it, cool it, and then coldwork it to your heart’s content with a diamond bit saw tells me that this material is nowhere near as fragile as people are led to believe.”
Then there is Palmentere’s argument with the ancient Romans—one of her academic specialties. With them, her work has a different bone to pick. Roman society helped perpetuate the mystique of glass as a material of the elites, something that could not be made or afforded by ordinary people. It was a symbol of wealth and attainment.
“I come from a really large family—very large,” Palmentere shares with a chuckle. “So there’s something very communal about the table. Most parties or family events tend to congregate in the kitchen or dining room—around the food, around the table.”
By crafting highly-designed tabletops from kilnformed glass, Palmentere manages to flip an ancient association. Instead of a rarity used to signify exclusion and comparison, in her work glass becomes a beautiful, functional material able to facilitate inclusion and celebration.
But that is not to say glass does not and should not represent luxury. On the contrary, part of what drives Palmentere’s work is a desire to help elevate aesthetic standards in the home. “I think that as glass became more readily available throughout history, with press molds and places like Steuben Glass or Libby Glass, people started to take it for granted. Before long, it was just there. Now we’re kind of blind to it; it’s always there. It’s in our electronics. It’s in our cars. We drink out of it. It’s everywhere.”
Palmentere knows it is inevitable for people to devalue the familiar. But what interests her is not some universal reappraisal of all glass, but a widespread rediscovery of truly luxurious glassworks. Part of her ambition is to help people discover the luxury available in the material itself—its color, its mystery, its relationship with light, its textures. That discovery can require a paradigm shift. After all, the luxury latent in glass is not the kind that can simply be bought; rather, it’s the kind that comes from living in artful, designed ways. That kind of living, of course, requires creating with just the right materials. And for anyone who finds Home in color and light, designed living likely means making with glass.
Still, Romans and Moderns aside, maybe the most personal argument being had in Palmentere’s tabletops is with history’s art critics and historians. They are the reason she purposefully plants fingerprints throughout her entire creative process.
“As a female artist who has studied the lives of female artists from the past, it’s important to me that my work is marked as mine,” says Palmentere. “If, say, my work ever gets dug up from some ruin, the archaeologists will find my little girl-scout fingerprints on it. Right now the prints are discreet; right now they’re hidden. But if a piece were ever to become a future artifact, they would find my marks. There would be no mistaking that a woman made it every step of the way.”
Choosing from a tragically long list of examples, Palmentere cites the life of Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Early in her career, the 18th century French painter’s work impressed people—it impressed them so much that rumors quickly spread that a man must have been carrying the artistic load (no woman, they assumed, could be so skilled).
On the other hand, those who disliked her work claimed that her success could only be explained by male patronage illicitly earned. This slander somehow managed to win Vigée Le Brun the designation of counter-revolutionary during the French revolution. It was a label that came with the threat of the guillotine. So, fearing for her head, Vigée Le Brun fled France and spent over a decade in exile.
Slander, death threats, exile—in the snowballing injustice of Vigée Le Brun’s story, it can be easy to forget what started it all: the prejudiced assumption that no woman could make art so well. Of all that was wrongfully taken from her, it began with a refusal to recognize Vigée Le Brun’s work as simply her own.
Larisa Palmentere isn’t taking that chance. Her work is unmistakably her own. And just in case someone were to miss the creative voice speaking through the ambition and argument designed into each piece, her fingerprints are waiting in the glass. They’re small. They’re hidden. And they’re ever-poised to keep history honest.