Published November 11, 2019 at 10:59am.
Story by Mary Martin. Photos by Hunter Lacey.
Carlyn Ray stands with a towering shelf of glass rods as her backdrop, every color of the rainbow waiting to be selected for the next project. Just off to the side is a row of fiery furnaces, opposite a set of gymnasium bleachers. It is in this open space that Carlyn uses her creative energy and passion for community to connect people of all ages and backgrounds to her love of art through glass.
Holding a small glass butterfly, Carlyn shares about her latest community installation project. Through the month of July, Carlyn and her team made regular visits to the Ronald McDonald House in Dallas to visit patients and their families, showing them how to affix glass pieces to the butterfly base. This colored base was put back into the kiln and their designs melted onto the butterfly wings. Altogether, more than 700 butterflies were hung by stainless steel wire across the lobby of the Ronald McDonald house, reflecting light and color through the space. “I believe in positive and imaginative art in institutions like hospitals,” Carlyn said. “This type of healing art is connected to inner strength and the comfort that people are seeking.”
Remembering her own experience with a sister who was in and out of the hospital as a child, Carlyn chose the butterfly for the Ronald McDonald House installation because of its parallels to the experience of patients and families who call the space their temporary home. “Ronald McDonald House is like a cocoon of love and a nest of nurturing,” Carlyn shared. “They are helping kids to flourish and migrate after feeling safe.”
Carlyn first saw glass art at age eight while growing up in North Dallas, and was immediately captivated. She carried that passion with her during her time at William and Mary pursuing her fine arts degree, then as she trained under Dale Chihuly. After moving back to Dallas and establishing her professional and teaching studio, Dallas Glass Art, Carlyn was ready to pour creativity into at-risk and female students. In 2017, Carlyn helped to found a new nonprofit, Art Reaching Out. Using STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) methods, Carlyn has worked with students at Girls Inc, Café Momentum, Young Women’s Prep Network, and Boys and Girls’ Club of Dallas to create sculptural artwork. Carlyn admits that working with melting glass can be intimidating at first. “Everyone goes on a journey that starts with fear,” she explained. “You break through that barrier then celebrate.” The empowerment that comes with creating something beautiful out of pure elements—fire, earth, breath, water—is certainly breaking barriers for students across Dallas as Carlyn creates an opportunity for creative expression in a new medium.
Outside of her nonprofit, anyone is welcome to take a weekend class at Dallas Glass Art. “We typically teach 40 people each Saturday and Sunday, and have private group events during the weekday evening,” Carlyn said. “The classes are attractive to all kinds of people due to the process-based creativity. Kids are intrigued by the heat, doctors and lawyers and other professionals are looking to access the creative side that makes you an elite thinker, and people who have learning differences love how they can think in three dimensions.” Carlyn also continues to design large pieces for private clients, with her signature woven glass through Carlyn Ray Designs. You can see Carlyn’s work at residences, offices, and restaurants across the metroplex, including the serving dishes at Nobu Dallas. Carlyn credits her creative confidence to her supportive parents, her student athletic coaches, and a daily meditation practice. “It is not my work, it is God’s,” Carlyn shares. “I am simply a small funnel of this big energy and I want to create an environment of support and belief for students.” For Carlyn, glasswork is her conduit to connect her energy, creativity, and passion for learning directly to the community she loves.
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