By Betty Beer
“Zanzanie lega lyecheca mi manil, Khiya nape unjkitha tunweya”
“Glass sparkles like water in the wilderness. Her hand our guide” *
Angela Babby is a master of the portrait in the medium of glass, a medium that is seductive in its color and pattern, and as shattery and dangerous as prejudice. Portraits are made in many media, but perhaps the most technically complex are those made in glass. The process is slow and experimental, but wondrous.
In addition to painting a true likeness, Angela uses her images to comment on themes of love, hate, war, current events, cultural issues, spirituality, historical events, and race relations.
Angela Babby lives in Billings, Montana. She is an enrolled Oglala Lakota at Pine Ridge, South Dakota. She now exhibits mainly through the Indian markets in South Dakota, Arizona, and elsewhere. Her work is included in the collections of many museums, and she has won first and second prize at the prestigious Heard Museum in Phoenix.
After working in the decorative painting business for many years, she switched to art glass in 2002, and since then has worked in stained/fused glass, tile work and vitreous enameling.
Her portraits are inspired by the photographs of Gertrude Kasebier, who was an American photographer from May 18, 1852 to October 12, 1934. Kasebier photographed Native Americans, motherhood, and championed the idea that women could become career photographers.
Zitkala sa: Why Am I a Pagan? (Image 1 pictured here), was inspired by Kasebier’s photo of Red Bird, a Yankton Dakota woman writer, activist, teacher, musician and intellectual. She was the originator and lyricist for the Sun Dance Opera. Babby continues to make multiple portraits of Red Bird while experimenting with various glass techniques. To get a portrait image, she uses enamel in powdered form, mixes it with a medium so it becomes a paint and thins it with water. After the “paint” is applied to the glass, it is taken to 1150 degrees so the enamel will melt into the glass. Sometimes it takes multiple firings. Babby keeps working until ”the piece decides when it’s done”.
Babby says, “Each artwork that I create cycles through three different mediums: stained glass, enameling and tile work.”
Each of Babby’s work starts as a sketch, which she transfers to cardboard so as to be able to cut out each piece of glass. She numbers each piece. Then they are ground, enameled, and fired. There is a lot of experimentation with color because the final color of glass is not known until it is fired. Sometimes the glass is glued down and mortared. The mortar mimics designs used by historical Lakota women in quillwork or on hides.
She is beginning to experiment with enamel frits that is melted into fusible glass. Prayers for the People and the Planet (Image 2 pictured here) is a turning point in her experimentation. In this “melt piece” she has used all her favorite kinds of glass. She expects to work primarily with glass and melted glass in the future.
However, as her techniques evolve, her hand will continue to guide us through the possibilities of portraits.
Betty L Beer, Brookings, S.D. a member of The Portrait Society of Atlanta
* Poetry by Bpnnie Lievan translated into Lakota
(1) Zitkala sa: Why am I a Pagan? Kiln-fired Vitreous Enamel on Glass Mosaic on Tile Board, 14”x18”, 7/2021.
(2) Prayers for the People and the Planet, Kiln-fired Vitreous Enamel on Glass Mosaic on Tile Board, 30″x30″, 3/2019.
For more information on Angela Babby and to view more of her portraits visit www.angelababby.com