Cheryl Derricotte – 2016 LEAP Finalist

Meet Cheryl Derricotte, our latest featured 2016 LEAP finalist. Her quietly haunting glass works combine text and historical imagery in an exploration of time and place. You can find her artwork in the Store throughout June and July.

CC: Tell us about your work.

Cheryl Derricotte (CD): Identities shaped by home (or homelessness); natural beauty (or disasters), memories of happiness (or loss) inspire my artwork. This results in works on glass and paper. Both materials are translucent and seemingly fragile, yet they are hearty enough to survive the passage of time between civilizations.

Gala Slaves. Photo: Keay Edwards

A phrase will get stuck in my head, such as “Ghosts” and “Ships” and I wrestle with it until an artwork is created. Thus, many of my pieces have titles before I ever make a schematic drawing, much less cut a piece of glass. Text is often layered onto my images, by screen-printing with glass powders, sandblasting or writing with diamond-point dremel tools.

The work I am showing as a LEAP finalist includes selections from my series Ghosts/Ships (2016). Ghosts/Ships uses historical images of slavery from the public domain collection of the British Library. Ghosts/Ships premiered at my first solo show at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco (Jan 27-April 3, 2016). I am also showing selections from my series Medicine Plants and Meditation, both series made in 2015.

I enjoy bringing historical images into contemporary dialogues. I am a visual storyteller. My work weaves personal and political geography to confront contemporary society’s relationship to place.

Rocky Path. Photo: Glen Graves

CC: Could you share with us how your background and education influenced your work?

CD: I returned to art school later in life and received the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Inquiry from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in 2015. I am also a licensed city planner and served as the nonprofit developer for numerous low-income housing projects and community-based art facilities throughout the U.S. I holds a Masters of Regional Planning (MRP) from the College of Architecture Art and Planning, Cornell University (1989) and a BA in Urban Affairs from Barnard College, Columbia University (1987).

My combined background in the visual arts and city planning fuel my artistic practice of making art from research as well as my interest in memory and place.

CC: Why were you drawn to glass?

CD: In the late 1990’s, I began attending the former Corcoran College of Art and Design after work. (The Corcoran is now a school within George Washington University). I received the Corcoran’s Certificate in Ceramics and Sculpture (2002) and it planted the seed that I might return for the MFA one day. By the time I finished the certificate, a local glass studio opened and I decided to try a class. I went on to learn warm glass sculpture at the Washington Glass School founded by sculptors Tim Tate and Erwin Timmers. I fell madly in love with glass – the immediacy of color and the translucency of the material?and never returned to clay.

"Tools of Resistance." PHOTO:  Keay Edwards
Tools of Resistance. Photo: Keay Edwards

CC: What inspires you?

CD: I am inspired by everyday occurrences. Observations of current events, politics, and urban landscapes are my entry into art. I am also inspired by opportunities to learn and grow. I am happiest when I learn something new – in art and life.

CC: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received as an artist?

CD: The best advice I ever got was “Get some technique!” from Therman Statom. At the encouragement of Tim Tate, I traveled to North Carolina to begin to learn glassblowing at the Penland School of Crafts where I studied large-scale glass sculpture with Therman Statom (2003). Therman told me I was the best artist he had seen in a long time (content) and I had absolutely no technique!

"Unfortunately There are Few Women Missionaries." PHOTO:  Keay Edwards
Unfortunately There are Few Women Missionaries. Photo: Keay Edwards

Since that conversation I have continued to hone my skills in glass and work on paper. Since moving to Northern California and taking my MFA I have enjoyed the mentorship of Carrie Iverson and the opportunity to undertake independent study with Matthew Day Perez at the Arrowmont School of Crafts in Tennessee. I value continuing education in the arts through craft schools like Penland and learning opportunities at the Glass Arts Society Conferences.

CC: What advice do you have for others considering a career in the arts?

CD: It is never too late to pursue a professional career as an artist. I am delighted to be an emerging artist at the age of 51!

I have long been inspired by the career of the wonderful enamellist, the late June Schwarcz. She never touched a piece of metal until she was in her 40?s and had a career retrospective in her 80’s at NYC’s Museum of Art and Design. She continued creating great art until her death in 2015 at the age of 97.

Make work that you love making and don’t shy away from difficult topics. There is a place for your unique art in the world and your job as an artist is to cultivate your voice.

Artist’s headshot by Nye’ Lyn Tho