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Minong artist creates artwork from glass and an unusual technique

Kathleen Mertzig forms pieces of broken and cut glass into spiders, lizards, turtles, motorcycles — just about anything you can think of — in her garage-based studio.

Artist Kathleen Mertzig adds gac to her paint before mixing it
Artist Kathleen Mertzig adds Gac to her paint before mixing it and using a paint pouring technique in her studio near Minong on May 16.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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MINONG — The sound of breaking glass doesn't bother Kathleen Mertzig. When her favorite glass or light cover breaks, she looks at it as an opportunity.

"Normally, when you hear something break, it's like 'Ah!'" Mertzig said. "In this studio, it's not such a big deal. I tell people, if you break something precious to you, bring it here and we can make something amazing out of it. You don't have to cry over broken glass anymore."

The hands of artist Kathleen Mertzig, left, help move paint around on a canvas
The hands of artist Kathleen Mertzig, left, help move paint around on a canvas as she shows her technique in her studio near Minong.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
A piece of artwork using broken glass and poured paint by Kathleen Mertzig hangs in the Mertzig home
A piece of artwork using broken glass and poured paint by Kathleen Mertzig hangs in her home.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Mertzig takes pieces of broken and cut glass and forms them into spiders, lizards, turtles, motorcycles — just about anything you can think of — in her garage-based art studio at her home in Minong.

It all started a few years ago when Mertzig realized she was tired of taking classes. As retirees, Mertzig and her husband, Dennis, spend part of their year in Florida, where she had taken several glass working classes and created a few glass pieces she liked. But she wanted to develop her own style and figure out how to do more.

"I got to the point where I was like, I know enough, I can do this on my own," Mertzig said. "Plus they'd often have these classes where you can't really do it by yourself. You do some of it and then the next day when you come back it's all perfect. So you don't get to learn how to do it yourself."

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Mertzig turned to YouTube and gained an extensive knowledge of the art of pouring paint. Using a combination of paint, Gac, Floetrol, WD-40 and a blowtorch, she's developed her own method of creating unique backgrounds for her glassworks.

Kathleen Mertzig is reflected in the mirror next to more of her artwork
Kathleen Mertzig is reflected in the mirror next to more of her artwork May 16.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

"I haven't seen a pour I haven't liked yet. I like some more than others, but genuinely, they're all unique and different enough from each other," Mertzig said. "And it's something that anyone can do. I had some of my grandbabies out here with me last weekend and we were doing this with the 3-year-old."

Once she has the background set and well-dried, it's time to dig into the glasswork. Mertzig has a collection of various vases, glasses, light fixtures, glass shards, shells and anything else she might have picked up at a dollar store, garage sale or thrift store. The one thing she doesn't need more of are wine bottles as "people give them to me by the armful. I'm good on wine bottles."

Artist Kathleen Mertzig uses a torch to heat certain areas of the painting
Artist Kathleen Mertzig uses a torch to heat certain areas of a painting May 16.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Sometimes the design for the piece is inspired by the shape of the glass object. She recently completed a bird piece that took inspiration from the shape of the large glass basket she used to form the structure of the bird.

"One of the biggest things for me is to work fast. The faster I finish, the more I like it," Mertzig said. "I can't sit with a piece too long or I'll grow to dislike it."
She also has her own in-house art critic in the form of her husband, Dennis. He will often come out to the garage to visit her while she's working to bring her a snack or glass of wine and offer his opinions on the piece.

Kathleen Mertzig adds paint to a cup before pouring it out on a canvas
Kathleen Mertzig adds paint to a cup before pouring it out on a canvas.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

"And I remember the first time I did it, she just cleared the slate entirely. I went, 'Well, you didn't have to destroy it!' But she said she'd been looking for an excuse to get rid of it, so I just said what she was already thinking," Dennis said. "If it doesn't look good, I'll tell her. But usually it does."

Mertzig often spends long days out in the garage working on pieces. She said it’s her creative outlet.

“I need to do something creative to be content,” Mertzig said. “I’ve always been that way. If I don’t, I can’t stand it. I need my artwork to get through life.”

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When she’s not busy spending time with her 11 grandchildren or making artwork for herself or to give away to friends and family, Mertzig also teaches classes. She hosts one- and two-day art sessions in her garage and takes her classes on the road to wherever people want to meet.

Glass is grouped by color in the studio of Kathleen Mertzig
Glass is grouped by color in Kathleen Mertzig's studio.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

If people want to learn to both pour paint and do the glasswork, she recommends two sessions to give the canvas enough time to dry. Mertzig is a retired special education teacher, so she said she really enjoys teaching people.

“Especially if it’s a group of ladies, they’ll often come in a small group and maybe bring a bottle of wine. And by the time we’re done with the paint portion, the wine bottle will be empty and we’ll use it in the next portion,” Mertzig said. “Then they have a piece of that afternoon incorporated into all their pieces and it’s just extra special.”

For inquiries about artwork or classes, email Mertzig at cabinlsl@hotmail.com .

Artist Kathleen Mertzig holds a motorcycle piece
Artist Kathleen Mertzig holds a motorcycle piece she created for her plumber out of broken glass.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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