My name is Tanner Scott Clark. I’m a mixed media artist that predominantly works with glass, metal, and wood. I was born in the small Midwestern town of Goodland, Kansas in 1985. I’m the second of four children. When I was 3 years old my family moved to Emporia, KS after my father became the Postmaster there.
My father worked for the United States Postal Service for 36 years before retiring in 2011. He has taught me a lot about being resourceful and perseverance, but mostly the value of working with my hands. Often he would recruit me to help him with projects around the house when I was young. Usually this meant I was given the job of shining a flashlight in his eyes or something more glamorous like helping hoist a transmission into a truck. While it didn’t seem that exciting on those early Saturday mornings, these are some of my fondest memories as a child.
My mother began her career as a cosmetologist while in Goodland. She operated a salon before deciding to focus on raising the kids. Later she went on to work as a teacher’s aide at the local middle school. She also taught me the value of working with your hands through her hobbies. She showed me that skills that have a useful purpose can also be used as creative outlets for pleasure. Whether that was painting, making some sort of a craft project, or simply mending some of our clothes, she taught me a great deal about making. I remember when I was young her teaching me how to sew some patches on my Boy Scout uniform. While it was a useful skill I’m sure she just was getting tired of sewing on all those stupid patches. Still I’m grateful. My parents still remain one of my greatest inspirations in life and I wouldn’t be where I am now without them.
I grew up and lived most of my life in Emporia. I’m a proud Midwesterner. The core values of the region such as a good work ethic and an initiative oriented attitude not only shaped my personality, but also made me into the artist I am today.
When I was young I was always curious and observant. It wasn’t uncommon to find me drawing pictures of race cars on homework assignments in grade school and building model cars in my free time. I’ve always been a collector, which I think comes from finding the beauty in objects and the potential stories within. When I was younger these were interesting rocks or odd things I’d find while walking on the side of the road. Now these mainly involve machinery, new materials, and tools. More expensive collections I’m finding. I’ve always had a love of constructing too. I’d often build forts, tree houses, and ramps to jump with my bike. I remember building little cities in the dirt in our backyard complete with bridges, water reservoirs, and roadways for my toys. I was always curious how things worked and regularly tore apart my toys to see what made them tick. Many of these characteristics I developed early on still seem to be with me to this day.
I have worked with glass since 2002-2003 when I was introduced to the material while in high school. Alan Keck, long time art teacher and ceramics artist, was my first instructor. He taught me the basics of working with glass. The studio set up there was modest. A small furnace, a glory hole, and an annealer. This taught me the value of resourcefulness by working with what was available. Originally I was drawn to glass because of the technical challenges that the medium presented. It was hard to do and I wanted to get good at it. So while in high school I would skip out of my other classes after finishing my assignments to work in the glass shop. If it was open after school, I’d be there. I spent every opportunity in that studio. I had other friends who were older than me that had went on to the college glass program there. So in the evenings I’d go down there to watch and learn more.
Following high school I did a short stint at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. I didn’t do very well in that environment, but I had made friends with some owners of a glass shop there. I ended up skipping classes to go hang out at their shop and started to realize I should just go to school for it. So I transferred back home to Emporia State University to pursue my degree in glass. During that time I was able to develop a vocabulary of skills. Patrick Martin was my professor at ESU. He did an excellent job making sure his students were taught a curriculum that left them well-versed in a variety of glass techniques. He also made sure that each of them were exposed to glass artists working in the field, bringing in visiting demonstrators from all over the country. In the time Patrick has been in charge of the ESU Glass program he has turned it into a distinguished, nationally known program that has produced many accomplished artists in the glass field today.
During college as the fluidity of my skills and method improved, my technical practice turned into a greater expression of creativity and ideas. Not only did college expose me to a wide variety of glass artists, but it also introduced me to a multitude of other materials and skills. I’ve always wanted to be a “jack of all trades” (its kind of a problem really, but I suppose it’s all in how you look at it). I began experimenting with wood, metal, and a variety of materials. Metal fabrication became a secondary interest. Through working a campus job in the Maintenance Department I quickly made friends with the campus welder, Bruce Love. He taught me a lot about how to think creatively about construction and the correct way to work metal. I was probably somewhat of a nuisance, but I’d often pull ideas from those guys when I had trouble with equipment and art projects. This kind of led me into equipment building and maintenance. I often took it upon myself just to start fixing things around the studio purely for the knowledge and benefits of making something right again. Through my own research and helping the older students I learned proper glass studio maintenance skills. Finally my final year in college I became the Glass Studio Technician. In 2009 I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Glass from Emporia State University. I’m incredibly grateful I had the opportunity to go through such a wonderful program.
I’ve received multiple scholarships and awards over the span of my career: Honorable Mention in the 2008 Kansas Collegiate Aesthetics Show at Birger-Sandzen Gallery, a nationally publicized event. I was also a finalist in both Glass categories for the 2009 Niche Student Awards, and winner of the Functional category. More recently I received the Jon and Mary Shirley Scholarship in Glass from Pratt Fine Arts Center in 2016-2017 and had a residency at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma in 2017.
While I was in college I tried to further my art education by attending classes at the many craft schools around the country. I always made it a point to not take a class unless I received a scholarship. I earned a full-scholarship to Penland School of Crafts in 2007 studying with Scott Darlington, half-tuition scholarships to Pittsburgh Glass Center studying with Scott Benefield in 2007 and Ross Richmond in 2008, and I also received a work-study scholarship to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts for a class with Michael Schunke in 2008. In September 2012 I went to Seattle to help my friend and glass artist Scott Darlington with his summer residency at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, WA.
From 2010-2014 I worked as a small engine mechanic at a local Farm and Ranch store in Emporia while on a hiatus from glass making. The mechanical processes I encountered there on a daily basis further inspired new works of art.
When I’m not making my artwork I usually divide my time between working on my motorcycles, fabricating equipment for my future studio, or spending time with my friends and family. I specialize in all types of glass work, but the majority of my pieces are inspired by traditional Venetian glass techniques and sculptural pieces dealing with socio-political events, mechanical objects, iconography, and Americana. Lately I’m exploring the use of blow molds to create new objects, lighting, and kinetic art.
In the summer of 2014 I decided to relocate to Seattle, WA to continue my career in glass making. Currently I work as a metal fabricator for my full-time job at Blackbird Iron and Design where we make custom hand railings while I continue to make my artwork on the side.