Tom Carter | Reflections of Tahoe in glass

“Deep Water Rays” | Tom Carter

Outdoor enthusiast Tom Carter has always been drawn to the crystal-clear waters of Lake Tahoe. He has spent the last two decades living on the North Shore, recreating in it, which has given him the inspiration to help clean it up.

Spending a lot of time in the water, swimming and paddleboarding off the shores of Carnelian Bay, Carter has seen and removed debris that has sunk to the bottom of the lake including boat dashboards, piping, windows, rubber tires and car engines. During his cleanup efforts, Carter began to think about how to mimic the textures and colors of the lake into different creations, which lead him to glass art classes and experimenting on his own.

“I wanted to make something that approaches that blue, glassy surface of the lake look. There are mountains all around, but not too many Lake Tahoes. The lake is what makes this place unique.”
–Tom Carter

Carter soon found a local supplier willing to give him recycled window glass, referred to as float glass. Transforming recycled glass into something else requires a lot of cost and effort because every time it is heated up to 1,500 degrees F and brought back down to a manageable level, it becomes less flexible. To get around this, Carter learned to recognize how the glass reacts.

Tom Carter at Sandy Beach. | Courtesy Tom Carter

After two firings, the glass may create devitrification, a reaction where the glass turns a foggy whitish color or it wrinkles instead of creating a smooth lasting shine. Therefore, Carter has learned how to do a one-firing technique to keep the glass from becoming unworkable.

“Glass is a fun medium,” he says. “I’m inspired by the color, reflections, purity of it. I like to work at it; I fire four to five things a week. I think in anything you are doing creatively there are times when your project takes you on a little journey. You may have a plan for a piece but then it doesn’t turn out quite as you envisioned it. But I go along for the ride and see where it takes me. I learn from failure and those that deviate from the plan end up being my most favorite, unique pieces. It’s a really cool struggle.”

Taking mental notes from one finished piece to the next, Carter makes his own colors, usually in the blue hues of Lake Tahoe. Sometimes he gets so focused on his craft he forgets to go outside; which, if you knew him, is pretty unusual for him. He gets caught up in feeling humbled by the process of making something beautiful, he says, a feeling that parallels his time out in nature.

Patterned dessert plates | Tom Carter

“You haven’t lived unless you’ve been a little beat up, straightened out by nature,” says the man who also spent 45 years as a rock-climbing guide. “Art does that, too. When you look at nature you see patterns, intricacy — it’s complex. I wanted to make something that approaches that blue, glassy surface of the lake look. There are mountains all around, but not too many Lake Tahoes. The lake is what makes this place unique.”

Carter says his next goal is to use his art to help raise money to restore the clarity of Lake Tahoe: “I would love to have a silent auction to fund more clean-ups, hopefully at Waterman’s Landing where [owners] Jay and Anik Wild let me swim all the time.”

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“When people see a pristine lake it’s easier for them to connect, to feel something bigger than they are. We have people capable of diving for [trash], but their time is worth money. With all of the athletes, SUP racers, people swimming triathlons — it has changed the way we recreate in the lake. We need to keep the visual part of it up as best we can,” he says. “I want my art to touch someone in a way and if what I do connects people to the water and to the land, then I feel successful. If we can take care of the lake and have people relate to it, if people can see it, then that’s medicine. It’s a natural way to be refreshed and fulfilled.” | tomcarterglass.com