Susan Gott walks just a few steps from her quaint back porch in the heart of Seminole Heights to a guest house-turned studio behind her house. As she opens a pair of French doors, the last 30 years of her life are represented through various pieces of fine glass art. On one side sit the glassware castings that have made her career as a successful artist a possibility, on the other, glass blown masterpieces that reflect her fascination with mythological imagery and symbolism.
Gott strolls casually through the room, encountering work that stirs a deep inner attachment to her subconscious. Each piece is a testament to her evolution as an artist and homage to her commitment to originality. The Tampa artist is a rare breed, a combination of creative, businesswoman, teacher, mother and spiritual thinker. She has built a unique and carefully crafted brand of glass art that mirrors her contemplative personality.
Gott is a local treasure and an example of what an artist can achieve right here in Tampa Bay. She could have gone to teach at Corning Glass full time or left for a bigger city, but instead she’s made Tampa the backdrop for her national success. At Phoenix Glass Studio, she has produced miraculous figurative glass sculptures and motifs that can be found all across the Bay area.
If you’ve ever sat outside at the Port of Tampa Library or looked around the University Area Transit Center, you’ve probably experienced one of her pieces without knowing it. Gott’s art embodies more than just emotion. Her curiosity of the spiritual realm and fascination with ancient myths and artifacts is represented throughout her castings. More impressive, her imagination is natural and her love of art is primitive, born from an instinct to craft the images in her mind into a reality.
“I’ve been an artist all my life regardless of whether it was painting, printmaking or whatever,” she says. “Creativity is an ongoing process. It just happens, it doesn’t drive me. It’s a part of who I am. This hasn’t been a job for me, it’s been a way of life.”
Growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Gott was a natural artist from an early age. Over the years, her craft has morphed from painting, sculpting and printmaking, to stained glass and eventually a form of glass casting that has brought her recognition from renowned glass art publications, and won her numerous public art commissions, such as the recent Zack Street Art Project in downtown Tampa.
Gott has been based in Tampa since the 1980s. After majoring in glass as an undergrad and receiving a master’s degree in glass art from Kent State, in 1992 she went solo, creating her own equipment and designing her own studio. She says she has always been inspired by the area’s flourishing art scene. Sitting in her studio, she recollects those early days of her glass career and how the local scene has since sprawled across Tampa Bay. It took just over a year for Phoenix Glass Studio to become the embodiment of that education and the base of operations for what has become more than one career.
“I have about 20 different employees and they are all named Susan,” Gott says candidly. “I built this studio myself from the ground up. From making the parts for the oven to setting up the space the way you see it, handling shipping, taking orders, keeping the books, marketing the products, handling the grinding and polishing and blowing or casting glass. I do it myself.”
In a world where the success rate for a glass artist is low, Gott isn’t far from an elite name. Her work has been displayed all over the world, from the offices of Raymond James Financial and the Disney Corporate Collection in Orlando, to the Polk Museum of Art and the Cafesjian Museum in Armenia.
Blowing glass is physically demanding and dangerous. To successfully cast glass, Gott completes a mold by digging a shape into sand in which she presses molten glass that comes out of her kiln at 2,300°F. The glass is manipulated with powders to create its character colors or symbols and pressed to create impressions before it cools. As it does, the cast used to make it is destroyed, making each piece unique to itself. After it’s ground and polished, the surface of the piece is enhanced with etchings or materials, such as enamels, copper, gold leaf and patinas.
“It’s the casting in particular that has made me different,” she says. “Each of those pieces is special and it’s funny because people always want to know how long a piece takes to make. There is no set time and in reality, each piece has taken a lifetime to make, because it took years of experience before I understood how to do that.”
Susan Gott’s body of work includes both museum pieces and public art projects that include All Children’s Hospital and St. Petersburg City Hall. Her art is available for purchase through select galleries around the country, as well as Phoenix Glass Studio, located at 811 E. Knollwood St., Tampa, FL 33604, and online at gottglass.com. For more information, call 813.237.3473.