Glass and mosaic artist Susan Watson Arbital was on a path to a different life when she took a hobby course in stained-glass crafting in her 20s. An accountant by training, she says that as soon as she began cutting glass, she knew she was going to make the art her livelihood.
Her 40-plus-year career as an artist has taken her all over the world, and she has brought the world into her work. A stained-glass piece might incorporate the rich colors she saw in a Turkish rug, or a fern she spied in a rainforest might be recalled in its lines. Her mosaics might include Florida shell fragments or a scrap of marble from an old East Tennessee quarry.
Arbital is the featured artist at the Schwarzbart Gallery at the Arnstein Jewish Community Center at 6800 Deane Hill Drive. There will be a reception for the artist 2-4:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13. In addition to her larger works, the gallery also has for sale her wind chimes, “funky birds,” butterflies and other small pieces.
For many years, Arbital was the resident stained-glass artist at Dollywood. Since retiring from that position, she creates in her studio in Southwest Knox County. Her studio, where she is often accompanied by her pet bunny, Shadow, is “a free, creative place for me,” Arbital says. “It’s my happy place.”
She finds that her work is becoming more abstract, a bit edgier, as she gives herself freedom to experiment.
“It’s my own artistic voice, but stronger,” she says.
Her husband, Jeff, is a nuclear engineer. “So the opposite side of the brain from me,” she says with a laugh. The two travel frequently. This year they will take a boat trip from Tokyo around Japan and to Shanghai. She will also return to France to learn more about a stone-cutting technique she is using in her mosaic work.
Arbital’s father was a Navy pilot, and she grew up in coastal towns all over. She loves East Tennessee for its beauty and also because, she says, “It’s an inspiring and creative place. And forward-thinking.”
Locally, she has a spot as one of the artisans at Southern Market, and her small items can be found at the Knoxville Museum of Art and Tea & Treasures in South Knoxville. She recently completed a commissioned piece for The Change Center in East Knoxville.