Whether creating her signature Nesting Bowls, a dazzling murrine sculpture Windows of Truth, or an unforgettable glass fashion statement Forbidden Twizzlers, Cat Burns captured viewers’ hearts and minds as a contestant on Blown Away 2 – Netflix’s glassblowing competition show produced by marblemedia with the support of The Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG). As runner-up of the competition, she scrambles to keep up with the overwhelming interest of the general public in supporting her art through acquisition.
A defiant artist who uses flamboyant, sarcastic humor to illustrate her internal narrative, Burns touched the Blown Away 2 audience with her honesty and vulnerability. She cultivates her work very slowly and uses it as a visual diary, creating audacious imagery as a way of communicating and synthesizing the often perplexing, manic experience of living with depression. The work explores the delicate strength of glass as a final object, as well as its use as a personally therapeutic tool. By destigmatizing personal demons, her work explores what it means to “go a little crazy.”
Some of Burns’ glasswork centers around her failing eyesight and how this impacts her world as a maker. She has needed glasses since age two for extreme nearsightedness, and her mother was almost completely blind by age 40, so losing her vision was something the artist understood as a possibility all along. For the past few years, retinopathy has plagued her, forcing a reevaluation of exposing the eyes to melting glass.
As a production glassblower Burns put herself through school, earning her associate degrees in Glass Fine Art and Glass Craft and Design from Salem Community College, Carneys Point, New Jersey. She subsequently worked as a full-time assistant to other glass artists in the Philadelphia area and at The Studio at CMoG, where she learned from the constant stream of master glassblowers. She says: “I got paid to learn first-hand from people at the top of their field, and I could not be more grateful for the lessons the Museum has taught me.”
Aside from making her own work, Burns loves to teach and has helped teach classes all over the country in places like Pittsburgh, Penland, Salem, Corning, Pilchuck, and Snow Farm. A full-time glassblower since 2009, the artist has travelled the world, working for many years with CMoG’s Hot Glass Show at Sea team.
Making work at The CMoG Studio, Burns sells a lot of her glass at The Museum Shops. Though 2020 began with mass cancellations of all of her scheduled work, The Shops presented the artist with the idea of taking a color concept she had developed earlier and reworking it to fit the Pumpkin of the Year. After a few inceptions, Burns landed on the right rainbow for the 2020 Unity Pumpkin. The first order in June was for 50 and by the end of the year, she had made almost 600.
Burns says: “They just spoke to everyone; that need for some color, joy, and unity. The rainbow felt a little defiant and unifying at the same time, racking up millions of TikTok views and totally changing my year. The love the TikTok community had for the Unity Pumpkin was completely unexpected and overwhelming at times, and because of that, I went from losing all my work to growing my business to where it is now in just five months. I will forever be grateful to my TikTok followers.”
Though her one-month 2020 residency at CMoG has been postponed due to COVID-19, meanwhile Burns works hard to keep up with demand for her work. After Blown Away 2 was released, the artist’s order limit on production pieces was met in only five days.
From functional glass bongs to Tits and Glass sculptures that reference the artist being told she was only valued in the hot shop for her tits, to Vagina Sculptures, which allow one to reclaim their sexual past – this is not your Grandma’s glass! “Through humor we heal and find strength,” says Burns.