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Jane Slowsky: A continuing legacy at the Sawdust Festival

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Jane Slowsky is a fused and stained glass artist who has exhibited at the Sawdust Festival since 1970. She hasn’t always been a glass artist. In her first show she sold batik pieces. Then she moved to silk screening. In 1981, she discovered glass. “Patty, my daughter, had attended a glass demonstration so we thought we’d give it a try,” remembers Jane. 

Patty is one of Jane’s four children. Two of her four children are glass artists like their mother. Patty was with Jane at the start. “She was with me the first time I sat at the Sawdust,” says Jane. They have continued their partnership as artists, and to make it even more of a family affair, Jane and Patty share their booth at the Sawdust with John Enfield, Patty’s husband, a woodworker, sculptor, and mixed media artist.

Jane Slowsky closeup

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Jane Slowsky is a fused glass artist who has been exhibiting at the Sawdust Festival since 1970

Looking to improve her cash flow

It’s quite a legacy for someone who first exhibited simply as a way to make extra money. “I had four little children,” explains Jane. “And I thought it would improve my cash flow.” It must have done that, and more, for Slowsky to keep it up consistently for almost 50 years.

49 years of selling at the Sawdust Festival

I met Slowsky at her booth right when the Sawdust opened. She hadn’t even gotten things sorted when two customers arrived looking to purchase some glass ornaments. Slowsky wrote up the orders on a paper ticket, calculated the sales tax from a printed out tax schedule, and carefully boxed her creations for her customers. At 91 years old and after 49 years of selling, Slowsky has her ways and they seem to work just fine for her. It’s a remarkable legacy born out of necessity. 

Jane and her four children arrived in Laguna on October 28, 1959. “We were on a merchant ship coming home from India and arrived in San Pedro,” recalls Patty. “Grandmother picked us up at the dock, brought us to Laguna Beach where my mom settled her family. She and I have never left.” 

Jane Slowsky studio

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The studio where Jane and her daughter Patty Slowsky-Enfield make their glass creations

Clearly, there is a story there. However, when we met, Jane was not particularly interested in talking about herself. What excited her, even after all these years, was talking about her work. At 91 years old, I decided she has certainly earned the right to talk about whatever she wants to talk about. Fortunately, Patty provided some welcome details.

Great cousin George brings the family to Laguna

According to Patty, the family came to Laguna because their great cousin George had left them a trailer, located at the former Treasure Island Trailer Park. Eventually, Jane bought her own home on Bluebird Canyon in 1974. She, John, and Patty all live and work there today. “She did it all on her own!” says Patty proudly.

Doing it all on her own

As of 1961 the children’s father was no longer in the picture. Jane worked full time with the State of California, Parole Division. She was the records officer for the southern division. She worked full time and had four kids so the idea of doing something to make extra money from home was appealing. “She could work at home on her art (batik) in the garage at night and Saturdays and Sundays and be at home with her children,” explains Patty. 

A mother-daughter partnership from the beginning

Patty is effusive in her praise of her mom, but she has been with her every step of the way. When they began their partnership, Patty was thirteen years old. “She was making batik peace signs and I was making macramé key chains. I learned to macramé at Thurston Junior High (now Thurston Middle School). I taught Mom and she taught me batik…working together started so long ago it was just normal for us. Our work ethic is the same and she’s a very positive person, which wears off one me – and that’s a good thing,” says Patty admiringly.

Glass is a liquid solid – and volatile

Their work ethic means they have more than mastered their craft. Jane says they know more about fused glass than most because back in the day the glass sheets they used were not necessarily compatible with one another. “A secret about glass is it’s a liquid solid,” explains Jane. “We started from scratch.” 

As she explains it, back in the early days of their career, the only way to determine what glass colors worked together without exploding, literally, was trial and error. Now, all the glass sheets she works with are compatible which makes her multicolored pieces much easier to create.

Jane recounts a story that embodies the surprising volatility of glass. “I was leaving the studio and knew (the piece) wasn’t compatible. It took four to five years but one day it finally blew up on the shelf – kapow!” she says with a laugh.

Jane Slowsky with Patty

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Jane and her daughter Patty have worked together since 1970 when Jane sold batik peace signs and 13-year-old Patty sold her macramé key chains

According to Jane, another interesting aspect of glass’ volatility arises when the piece has a bubble trapped inside it. Interestingly, that bubble will eventually move its way to the edge of the piece and disappear. “I have one that’s been getting close to the edge for ten years,” says Jane with delight.

Shattering the glass ceiling

The inconstancy of glass must be one of the reasons it’s so captivating. Jane and Patty’s creativity lends itself well to their chosen medium and they have had great success with their creations. An example is the “Shatter the Glass Ceiling” pin. 

In 1997, Vivian Shimoyama, a highly successful businesswoman and fused glass artist, was walking through the Sawdust and saw Jane and Patty’s glass jewelry. “She asked us if we would make her ‘Shatter the Glass Ceiling’ pin and, a few years later, ‘The Breakthru’ pin,” says Patty. This pin has become so well-known, it is pictured in former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s book Read my Pins

Jane was wearing a “Shatter the Glass Ceiling” pin when we met. “We made thousands of these,” she says proudly. A happy offshoot of that work, according to Jane, was they had so many pieces of glass left over due to the way that pin was created, it fostered even more creativity, like the way they use gold in their designs.

From earrings to Larry Flint’s bathroom

The Sawdust isn’t the only place the pair’s designs can be found. There was the time they worked on Larry Flint’s house. “We worked with my brother making stained glass windows,” recalls Patty. “We also made stained glass windows for a door company (The Oak Door Co.), and in about 1988 we were commissioned by Barbie Benton to make a glass tile mural in her son’s bathroom in Aspen, Colorado. That was a big project in glass fusion.” It seems like a pretty reasonable claim to say that at this point they’ve done it all.

Jane Slowsky booth

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Some of the vibrant creations Patty and Jane are selling at their Sawdust Festival booth

And they’re planning on continuing. “We get tired every now and then,” admits Jane. “But people like us and we like doing it, so we just keep going.” And when I ask how long they plan to keep going? The mother-daughter team gives me two reassuring answers.

Going for 100

 Patty says, “When we’re down in the studio working together, coming up with a new ornament, a new pin or earring design, or a plate design, I look across the table and see her working in her 90s, and I think to myself, ‘She’s as young as she was in 1970, with the same amount of creative energy.’” Jane is a bit more specific. “I’m aiming for 100,” she says with a definitive nod. 

Patty makes how she feels about her mother very clear. “All I want to say is I love being my mom’s daughter and business partner. She’s a fabulous woman,” says Patty. The Slowskys stand in stark contrast to their chosen medium. Glass may be volatile and fragile, but this partnership is anything but.

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