"I think that there is definitely a sentiment in Seattle and beyond around glass—that it is decorative and pretty and sort of the candy of the art world," said Sarah Traver. "I think that's really shortsighted. I think it dismisses all of the people who are working with that material in really dynamic, innovative ways and who use it as a means of artistic expression."
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We were standing inside Traver Gallery on First Avenue, where she has been the gallery director for a decade. The work on exhibit included a neon art piece by Megan Stelljes depicting a banana and two oranges arranged to look like a cock and balls. Next to that were 14 water-filled glasses, all about to tip over, by legendary Seattle artist Buster Simpson. A lacemaker lamp handcrafted by Jen Elek flickered in the corner.
"I think it's really important to put [glass] work into context with other sculptural works, with painting, with work that we find interesting no matter what medium it is," Traver said. In the world of glass art, there is value to be found in elongated beautiful forms but also in narrative conceptual work. "One of the things that we're trying to do at Traver Gallery is make space for that, that continuum and that dialogue."
Founded by Sarah Traver's father, William Traver, in 1977, the gallery is one of the foremost purveyors of glass art in the country. It famously hosted the first Pilchuck Glass School show and introduced the work of Italian glass master Lino Tagliapietra to an American audience. Traver Gallery now represents some of the best glass artists and sculptors in the United States.
Growing up, Traver had no intention of getting involved in the "family business." In 2002, she got her BFA from the University of Washington in fine art, photography, and art history, and then moved to New York. After a stint in Teach for America, she realized she missed the mountains and water of the Pacific Northwest and returned.
Taking what she thought was a temporary job, Traver worked for a year as a gallery associate before stepping into a manager position. It was then that Traver realized she had discovered her calling. "I found that I really loved it more than I anticipated and felt really connected to the artists, a lot of whom I had known my whole life," she told me. "I felt really passionate about supporting those artists and their work."
Though Traver's job encompasses a full range of duties (from attending art fairs to fixing lighting), she emphasized that the best part is the face time she gets with artists. "Working with artists is deeply fulfilling. Getting to know an artist's work and where they're coming from with it, why they're inspired to make that work, what their background is, and then being able to present it to the public and talk about it...that's huge."
Traver feels really strongly about supporting other women in the arts and bringing diversity into the gallery. She knows that women artists and artists of color aren't always afforded the space and time to build their careers. The language surrounding their work and experiences isn't as codified or valued in the same way. That's equally true for other job roles in the art world.
Traver Gallery has been around longer than many of the buildings that surround it. "It's a wonderful privilege to be in this space and be in a gallery that's established and well regarded in the community and successful," she said. "[We want] to be able to set aside space for those artists who really need it and who are doing work that is not easy. We want to go there with you."