MADISON, Wis. -- Kaaren Neuendorf is used to doing analysis and finance sheets on a daily basis as a manager in CUNA Mutual Group's finance division.
But her passion for flame working or glass blowing, as it is often called, has become an outlet "to use the other half of [her] brain." Neuendorf became interested in flame working two years ago when taking ceramic and bead-making classes at a local university. On a hunch, she took a glass blowing class and "absolutely fell in love with it."
"There's some degree of planning but there's also some fun in being random about it," Neuendorf said on making her intricate pieces. "It's less about creating a perfect piece and more about the creation process itself."
Neuendorf has made everything from a miniature "generic lizard" to an eight-inch high human form. Depending on the size and the complexity of the piece, it can take as little as two hours or up to 10 hours, which is how long it took to complete the human form art work. In choosing the colors she might work with, Neuendorf said "it's kind of by accident." She purchases "quite expensive" color rods, then will build a small layer of color and will manipulate the hues until she achieves the right mix. From there, it's just a matter of pulling the color where she wants it. For instance, with the lizard, she pulled black onto the feet and hands and a pea green color as the main color on the body.
"I might use blue to make a blue person. I have been experimenting with a lot of different colors," said Neuendorf, adding she researches certain shapes and animals to see how they move and jump, for instance.
Because of her busy work schedule, Neuendorf said she often only has time twice a week to devote to her hobby. She has a torch in her garage that she works with on smaller pieces. It's important, she stresses, to do flame working in a highly ventilated area.
So devoted is she to flame working that she's taken classes at The Studio at the Corning Museum of Glass, a week-long, extensive program considered to be the top training ground in the country. Neuendorf has already taken the program twice this year and is planning to go again in January 2008.
She finds it hard to part with the pieces she's made simply because they've become her babies.
"I don't sell them. I'm usually too in love with my pieces to give them away," Neuendorf said. "I'm too critical of my work, anyway."