To be allowed into the sacred studio space of an artist is a true privilege. To be able to then see that artist captured at work is an opportunity above and beyond our wildest dreams. Through the lens of Katrin Albert, a New York-based mixed media artist and photographer, our dreams were actualized. Katrin’s ability to add a dose of magic to every photo she captures, coupled with the world of dark fantasy and mysticism being created by Edward Nichols, the artist behind Riven Barrow Glass, resulted in a truly awe-inspiring peak into how these stained glass creations come to be.
After seeing Edward’s workspace, we were overwhelmed with questions about the creative process and inspiration behind Riven Barrow Glass, and so we caught up with the Brooklyn-based artist to talk Lord of the Rings, music, activism, vampires, and of course, all things stained glass.
Dear Darkling: What is the meaning behind the name “Riven Barrow Glass”?
Edward: A barrow is an type of ancient tomb and riven means to cleave. My favorite part of The Lord of the Rings is when the hobbits encounter Tom Bombadil and then the Barrow-wights. They come away from that ordeal with ancient magic swords. I liked to imagine what other treasures would be hidden in these tombs. Maybe some enchanted glass items!
Have you always been an artist? What other mediums have you worked in before stained glass?
Yes! Always. Some of my earliest memories are drawing on lampshades and then turning them to face the wall so my mom wouldn’t know! I love all mediums and I’ve changed focus several times- fantasy illustration, photography, movie prop replication, set painting, stencil art, embroidery, furniture restoration, cosplay -I’ll try anything. I basically want to amass all the skills I’d need to physically create my own fantasy world.
You’re entirely self-taught. What made you decide to pick up stained glass as an art form?
Though I learned stained glass from watching hundreds of YouTube videos, I went to art school and worked building movie sets for many years. Both those experiences taught me discipline, craftsmanship, and focus. I wouldn’t have had the guts to jump into such an obscure medium like glass without the confidence that film and school gave me. As far as why stained glass?- it was the only reason I tolerated church as a kid. I’d just stare at the windows wondering how they were made. I love how every piece I create changes with the light. It gives a feeling of intimacy to the viewer. Like, the subtle way you move your head can change the reflection in the glass or shift the shadows in the texture.
Like us, you clearly have an eye for the darker things in life. What are your sources of inspiration?
Death cults. Book fetishists. Flowers. Hiding in shadows. Chimeras. Knowing secrets. Voyeurism. Ancient libraries. Dramatic weather. Archaeology. Trickster gods. Having conversations in the dark. High fantasy. Sci-fi. Dream logic. Music! And, of course, all the other amazing artists and creators whose magic keeps me from feeling alone.
You describe your work as “stained glass for nocturnal creatures” and often draw parallels between yourself and vampires. What connects you to these creatures of the night? How does this influence your art?
There’s just something special about creatures who emerge at twilight. I’ve always been a night owl. I love working late into the night. It’s quiet. Darkness is mysterious and forgiving. I have a place in my heart for all vampires but, when I was in high school, I was really taken with Armand’s struggle with the passage of time in Interview with the Vampire. I’d thought immortality would be so cool but his problem was that he’d lived for so long that the things he was fond of from his youth didn’t exist anymore and no one else alive remembered that time firsthand. It felt so lonely. It helped me live in the moment.
We had the privilege of getting a peek into your studio space. Can you tell us a bit about your creative process and the technique you use?
I work in the Tiffany copper foil method of stained glass rather than the Medieval lead came method. I chose Tiffany because you can make smaller, more intricate designs. My studio isn’t very large so I have a system of trays that hold projects in different stages (cut glass, ground pieces, foiled). I work in batches rather than one project from beginning to end. Stained glass is very labor intensive! I have the deepest respect for all the glass artisans on Instagram. It requires a lot of concentration and precision at every stage. Sometimes, I fantasize about switching mediums but I know that I’ve found my art medium soulmate. I wouldn’t say “soulmate” in any other context! Anyway- I’ve sold my soul half a dozen times so…
What is your favorite thing about your studio space? How do you foster a creative environment within your studio?
I keep little tokens and pictures around my space to motivate me. I have a pic of Xena, little devil figurines, candles, incense, a “make it so” keychain, and glass experiments I’m toying with. I think my favorite thing about the space is the Xmas lights around my window. I find the soft light really therapeutic and calming.
What is your favorite piece you’ve ever created? Your most popular?
Most popular is definitely the vampire bat! Favorite? I supposed the large fire skull piece I made last year. It’s part of a series that I haven’t had time to complete yet. Soon tho!
You participate in a lot of fundraisers and use your social media presence as a platform for activism as well as art. Why do you feel it is important to intersect your art with activism?
Art saves many people’s lives- whatever the medium. Art is why we have culture and civilization. I believe that art can only thrive through diversity. To be really cliché, we’re all standing on the shoulders of giants. Even so- many great artists have been silenced by sexism, bigotry, war. Fuck that. It makes me depressed to think about all the beautiful ideas and perspectives that have been lost. I don’t want to live in a time where that continues to happen so I feel it’s a necessary part of my work to push back against a system that will hinder humanity from flourishing.
You’re also heavily involved in the DIY/flea market/artist scene in Brooklyn. Why do you feel it is important to foster those communities? How has it helped you to grow as an artist?
When I buy something at a flea market, the item automatically feels like a treasure. It’s the closest I can get to going to fairy markets in real life. I also like that the experience is more personal. My money isn’t going to a corporation. It’s going directly into the hands of the artist. And as a vendor, it’s really flattering to get compliments firsthand or hear anecdotes about where a person is going to hang their stained glass. It feels great. I spend most of my time alone in my studio so the one-on-one interactions I have at markets keep me going!
You’re also a DJ. What got you into the music scene? What are some of your favorite bands? Does music influence your art?
When I was 8, I saw a very Batcave goth person at the zoo. I’d never seen a goth or punk in real life before, only movies. I was like “they’re real? Fuck suburbia. I’m moving to the city and hanging out with these people!” It’s like all of a sudden there was an option to live as freely and creatively as my favorite bands but I didn’t need to be famous. I go out to see live music or DJs several times a week. It’s an addiction. My all-time favorite band is the Birthday Party. I wish I could’ve seen them live! I’ve been through a lot of music phases but right now I’m listening to Bernard Herman (NYC), Sisters of Mercy, Roxy Music, X-ray Spex, Catherine Wheel, Boy Harsher, Jordi Savall, Malaria, Seth Bogart, Plack Blague, Tricky, and Semita Serpens. Music used to directly influence my work but now I listen to it to open up my mind to new ways of thinking and it helps my depression too.
Do you have anything new in the works?
Yes! I’m working on new small designs and some larger work as well! Pins too…