Artist’s Glass Buddhas Reveal the Light Within

Written by: Jill Whitmore

A compassionate Buddha, created by Jill Whitmore of kiln-formed glass, sometimes in six layers

A compassionate Buddha, created by Jill Whitmore of kiln-formed glass, sometimes in six layers.
Photos by: Patti Payne

I am an artist. And one of the many things that truly inspires me is creating Buddhas.

I work in glass and multi media, creating florals, nudes, landscapes, still life wine scenes, abstracts, wearable art, and large multimedia pieces in acrylic with glass overlays. I especially like making Buddhas.

Whitmore, outside her studio on Camano Island, with her latest Buddha creation

Whitmore, outside her studio on Camano Island, with her latest Buddha creation.

I started creating Buddhas in glass well over a decade ago. I love portraying this iconic figure as he has manifested through different traditions, and his female counterpart Kwan Yin.  Their faces are portrayed so differently, according to the people who live and practice their teachings in different locales.

I design Buddhas using the medium of kiln-fired glass, first drawing out a pattern. Then I carefully cut various types and textures of glass, thinking about how those layers will forge in the kiln, creating a glass depiction.

The designed piece is carefully placed in a large kiln and fired at anywhere from 1,380 to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the desired effect, as I add additional layers and accents multiple times.

It’s always a joy to open the kiln and see the magic that has happened there, the way the color transforms through multiple layers of glass, combining through the alchemy of heat.

A glass Kwan Yin radiates compassion

A glass Kwan Yin radiates compassion.

The facial expression is so important in any portraiture, and my process of creating just the right mood, is drawing on the glass itself until that perfect expression emerges.  Sometime this can take weeks, as I sit with the piece working on it in stages, letting it speak to me, conversing, exploring, listening.

It is then when names for the pieces emerge: names like Thai Buddha, Compassionate Buddha, Kwan Yin 1,2,3 and 4, and Laughing Buddha.

The Buddhas and Kwan Yins are all wall-mounted pieces. And while they are two dimensional, there is a lot of depth in the work, as well as tactile, raised and textural areas. In places the viewer is looking through five or six layers of glass.

Kwan Yin, also called Quan Yin, is a deity expressing compassion, often androgynous in gender.

I am drawn to use glass for these works, love working with glass, because of its interaction with light and light force.

A Thai Buddha, commissioned by art collectors in Maryland

A Thai Buddha, commissioned by art collectors in Maryland.

While everything interacts with light, glass has a very special way of doing that. I love the sensuality of the medium. I love it that glass appears liquid when it is not, particularly kiln-fired glass. The fluidity of fused glass is exciting to me.

The projects are often commissioned, like a five-foot Buddha face that is hanging in a house in Maryland. This was done in a series of four panels, and the project was thrillingly difficult and rewarding.

I have created images of the Buddha in many different colors, generally deep and rich in bronze or cobalt or red glass. I always render his facial features, and bindi or third eye, in dichroic glass, a material formed with layers of metal oxides.

I love portraying his large ears and thoughtful compassionate eyes.

Quan Yin is particularly fun as well, with her hair piled high upon her head.

I am in the process of creating a new Buddha right now.  This piece will be in cobalt blue, with borders of iridized bronze and steel-blue glass.

Whitmore outside her newly opened gallery on Camano Island

Whitmore outside her newly opened gallery on Camano Island.

I think people are drawn to these pieces for different reasons.  Some love the pieces simply as portraits. For others, each is a sacred symbol of a master they love and respect.

Generally my Buddhas are from 20 inches to 30 inches high, but not at all limited to those dimensions.  I intend to create a large Buddha again in a series of multiple panels to show in Whitmore Gallery Visual Joy, which I opened in Terry’s Corner on Camano Island in March.

Glass and inner practice

I find myself creating Buddhas as a form of meditation, when life calls for that exact practice, an exercise in moving meditation, concentration, collaboration with the muse, and deep focus.  Of course, I try to live my life in this track – whether doing the dishes, walking the dogs, playing music, paying bills or creating.  That’s the point after all, isn’t it?

Another in the Kwan Yin Buddha series, in front of the Camano Island studio

Another in the Kwan Yin Buddha series, in front of the Camano Island studio.

Creating a glass Buddha in the studio is a thrilling culmination and tribute to all that I know about kiln-formed glass, and to my heart’s lifelong  dance with the mystical and beautiful and simple and elaborate teachings of the Buddha.

I am a practicing Bon Buddhist. The Bon tradition within Buddhism, Tibet’s oldest spiritual tradition and one of the oldest religions on Earth, is so completely encompassing of all levels of existence, from the raw physical to the great perfection, or dzogchen.

Bon Buddhism, and my daily dedication to the Bon energy practice of Tsa Lung, influences all that I create and all that I do, whether building a Buddha, or washing the dishes.

I am a member of a world-wide Buddhist sangha or group that studies under  Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. This lama has centers across the world, and is the founder and director of Ligmincha, dedicated to the study and practice of Bon Buddhism.

I am just starting to connect with practitioners of this tradition in the Northwest.

When I lived in Colorado I went to Crestone and the Chama Ling retreat center there, and studied several times a year with the rinpoche and sangha. His followers who gather there from across the world.

A green Buddha uplifts

A green Buddha uplifts.

Now that I have moved to Washington state I am planning to participate in the Northwest sangha and programs, and also will return to Crestone in September for the annual series of teachings.

I love the place where all religions meet, that mystical space of pure love, liberation, creation, where life manifests as life force, light, prana or pure love.  This place, where the mystical and the scientific meet, has always fascinated me.

I particularly love Buddhism because of its recognition that all is consciousness or infinite mind (as Christian Science also teaches), and that it is up to the practitioner to purify and recognize one’s true nature. My hope is that these infused values shine through me, that I am a conduit, and that my work will inspire these qualities as well.

From my perspective, the practice of Tsa Lung has reinforced vibrancy, clarity, joy, depth, magic and wonder in my life.  There are so many levels of practice in this ancient tradition, one could spend an entire lifetime just attaining a degree of mastery in any one part of it.

I am very excited about opening my new gallery on Camano. I welcome you all. I look forward to engaging with this wonderful Northwest community that I find myself in.

My website, www.windsingers.com , is a good way to keep track of the gallery’s opening date. My phone is 805.448.0929

About the Author: Jill Whitmore
Jill Whitmore, who comes from a long line of noted American artists, recently closed her gallery in Colorado to move back to Washington and her family. She earned a bachelor’s degree in comparative religion from the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. She practices in the Bon tradition of Tibet, which is closely linked to Buddhism, and studies under Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche.