We had the good fortune of connecting with Hannah Nicholson Alana van Altena and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Hannah Nicholson, have you ever found yourself in a spot where you had to decide whether to give up or keep going? How did you make the choice?
For us, knowing whether to proceed with a project or to step down comes from learning to listen to the subtle nudges of the universe (everything not in our control), our own instincts, and each other. However, often our process looks like assessing and finding a different approach, rather than plowing through or stopping cold. We both feel that flexibility and being open for things to evolve is hugely important.

Working with glass is like engaging in a dance with the material. If we push or pull too drastically, the glass becomes overworked. If the glass is overworked, it shows. In these moments, we have lost the natural flow and the result looks forced. While it is important to test one’s limits as well as the limits of the material, there comes a point when no amount of manipulating, stressing, and pushing will lead to your original desired destination. If our hearts aren’t fully in it, we drop the idea for a while and see if it rekindles in our creative brainstorming at a later time. There is nothing quite like leaving a project, only to circle around back to it after gaining perspective and allowing yourself the time to approach problems with a fresh mind and body.

Other times, the creative zeal is present and the intention is real. If we have identified the desire and importance of bringing something into fruition, we move forward. We brainstorm various approaches and potential problems, seek a collective level of focus and calm, and move through it together. Our most successful work is collaborative, coming from a naturally unfolding dialogue between the two of us and the material.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
What sets us apart from other glass artists is the partnership that we share. Our friendship began over twenty-five years ago, and while we were oftentimes faced with similar challenges, we developed different approaches to problem solving. Our shared experiences and different skill sets have helped us push each other to view pieces from different perspectives. Hannah’s large-scale thinking and Alana’s attention to detail have allowed us to explore designs that take up space while simultaneously holding space for intricacies. Over time, we’ve come to learn that the challenges we face are easier to overcome when we lean into each other’s strengths.

We’ve arrived at where we are today professionally in a round-a-bout manner. We were around glass often as children – especially Hannah – but our interest truly piqued when we came home from college and had gained perspective on what a truly unique and captivating material glass is. We are fortunate to be the second generation of glass artists, and as such were afforded opportunities that other glass artists don’t have, namely a home studio.

Along with the opportunities, came the challenges that come with taking over a business with forty years of clientele, equipment, and expectations. Our growing pains emerged quickly as we simultaneously learned how to manage a full work schedule, maintain equipment, market our work, manage client relations, and all of the other details of business ownership that often are overlooked when simply dreaming of being an artist. While running our business has been far from easy, what has kept us going is our love for the material, and the flow state that comes with creating.

The biggest lesson we’ve learned along the way is that there is always more to learn, there’s alway room to grow and adapt. There are many ways to reach a final destination and oftentimes the final destination turns out to be the beginning of a new journey. This is the way many of our new designs come into being, and how we reignite our passion for glass.

We want the world to know about our work because the art of manipulating molten glass has a rich history in both art and function, and has only recently re-emerged into mainstream view. We are proud to carry on the artistic tradition, and to do so as a female team, which is somewhat unusual.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
In the Springtime, Auburn has the North Auburn Artists Tour which is a wonderful opportunity to explore scenic back roads, visit the creative spaces of 20+ local artists, and stop at local tasting rooms such as Fawnridge Winery on the way. You can find plenty of artisanal sweet and savory pastry options at local bakery The Baker & The Cakemaker to fuel your day!

In the Fall, there is the Placer Artists Studios Tour, the largest and longest-standing visual art tour in Placer County. With over 100 participating artists working in a variety of mediums, there is something of interest for everyone. You can conclude your inspiring day of touring studios with a dinner reservation at Restaurant Josephine in the City of Auburn, recognized by Sacramento Magazine for their blend of French bistro classics and Eastern European flavors.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Through a variety of mediums, each of our parents found the value of creative expression in their own lives. Their deep respect and love for the arts helped ignite our passions at an early age, and their unwavering support and trust in our endeavors reminds us of our capability to thrive when faced with challenges.

Our local community is also a huge part of our success story. They have played a big role in us arriving where we are today by accepting us as second generation artists and giving us the space to create and evolve. Our community has shown up with interest and words of encouragement as we experiment and develop our own ideas- some of which are successful and some of which are learning opportunities. This has felt monumental to us. Their support was imperative to our survival in the beginning, and continues to encourage us to move forward with more confidence and joy in the work we do now.

Website: www.nicholsonvanaltenaglass.com

Instagram: @nicholsonvanaltenaglass

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nicholsonvanaltenaglass

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSFNX5PJyKJtGjFLKUX3zIQ

Image Credits
Hannah Nicholson Janet Nicholson

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