First Look: The Glass Dancer

It’s heartening to know that New York still harbors ateliers where artisanal work is thriving, none more so than Miriam Ellner’s studio in Chelsea. For the last twenty years, the former dancer has specialized in the art of gilding precious metals on the reverse side of glass. This delicate technique, known as “verre églomisé,” originated in 200 B.C. Photo: Wendy Goodman

“It’s important to prepare properly, like a master chef. You need everything in place beforehand,” explains Ellner as she lays out her tools. “Once you get going, it’s like meditation.” She’s getting ready to prepare the glass and apply the gold leaf. The wafer-thin precious-metal leaves come wrapped in this Italian tissue paper and the brushes, which gilders call “tips,” are very delicate. Photo: Wendy Goodman

Ellner calls this one a “double tip,” because it was made with an extra layer of hair. This gives her more control over the delicate leaves. Photo: Wendy Goodman

At the start of the gilding process, Ellner rests a clean piece of glass on a Styrofoam block. Next she will apply the gilding “liquor”“gelatin diamonds melted in distilled water”which binds the gold leaf to the glass. Photo: Wendy Goodman

Before studying decorative art in Brussels, Ellner was a modern dancer, so it makes sense that she uses dance metaphors to describe her method. “You can set up a nice rhythm and choreograph your own gilding routine,” she says. Here she is taking her gilder’s tip and lightly running it across her arm, which is coated in a thin layer of Vaseline. The extra moisture helps her control the gold leaves. Photo: Wendy Goodman

The next step in the delicate routine: Ellner picks up the gold leaf with the tip ready to apply it to the glass. Skill and grace are required when dealing with these temperamental materials. Photo: Wendy Goodman

Ellner has an array of precious metals she customizes for different projects. This bowl of mica flakes and crushed abalone looks like magic dust! Photo: Wendy Goodman

First Look: The Glass Dancer