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Meet the Artist Making Glass Coral Reefs

With the help of underwater macro photos, Emily Williams creates a fragile take on fragile ecosystems.
Seaweed, © Emily Williams

With a deeply ingrained love for biology—and a penchant for glasswork—sculptor Emily Williams creates a stunning marriage of art and science in her translucent series of hand-blown glass coral reefs. Working from underwater macro photographs that might make Coral Morphologic drool, Williams first hangs enlarged images behind her workbench, then spends several days molding thick glass with a blowtorch to create the support structures that frame her pieces. Then, she fills in their finer details with 3mm rods of heat-resistant borosilicate glass, which suits the finer features of the intricate organisms. "The challenge is to make extremely delicate, detailed forms," she tells The Creators Project. "This requires a lot of care and a lot of time."


Williams draws inspiration from vintage scientists like Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, a pair of 19th century scientists who documented jellyfish, sea anemones, and octopi, with highly detailed glass sculptures. "I think this is some of the best sculpture to be found anywhere. I never tire in marveling at the pink Tubularia or Glaucus Atlanticus sea slug," she says. When she's not modeling off of photos sent to her by coral farmers—with whom she's grown close—she also designs from 19th century biologist John Ellis' detailed illustrations and diagrams.

Emily Williams working on coral. © Emily Williams

Williams developed this love of science from her family, who visited national parks all over the United States in a converted van, and from her grandmother, a docent at the Smithsonian, who exposed her to art and science exhibitions the world over. Now, she's using her artform to give back to a world that has fascinated her for so long. "I want to use my work to draw attention to the critical state of coral reefs globally," she says. "I am interested in publishing a book of my reef glass work, and applying part of the sale price toward a worthy coral restoration organization."

While one side of her brain thinks about the her art's impact, the other considers its evolution. Not only does she want to add color to her glass art practice, she says she wants to expand her repertoire to land-based organisms as well: "I have been thinking a lot about some oversized flower forms," Williams explains. "I imagine I will move back and forth between the plant world and the marine world until the day I die."


Watch some behind-the-scenes footage of Williams at work—and see some of the fruits of her labors—below:

Seaweed Detail, © Emily Williams

Sea Tangle, © Emily Williams

Sea Tangle Detail, © Emily Williams

Fan Coral, © Emily Williams

Fan Coral Detail© Emily Williams

Nest Detail, © Emily Williams

Nest, © Emily Williams

Jellyfish, © Emily Williams

See more of Emily Williams' work on her website.


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