Monday, May 23, 2011

An Artist with a Passion- Tammy Zehner, Whirl Girl Glass Designs

Hi everyone!  I want to start introducing you to different artists...I thought I'd start with Tammy because she's a very special person.  Not only is she now a good friend, she has a great passion for her artwork and also for helping animals... a topic very dear to my heart.  Tammy is a fellow Etsian and has been very helpful to me in sharing tips and giving me critique on my own Etsy store. Here is my interview with Tammy Zehner of Whirl Girl Glass Designs.  I hope you enjoy getting to know Tammy as much as I have.

One of Tammy's stained glass creations.

Hi Tammy, introduce yourself to my blog readers...
Describe yourself and your life.

I am a self-taught artist who learned from library books and the trial and error method.    I have been doing stained glass for 15 years now and still continue to learn new things every day.  I think you need to push your limits to become a better artist and I always try to.  I also don’t believe in being competitive.  I share my “trade secrets” with other artists or the public.  I believe that I put my own passion in my designs that cannot be duplicated and I am not threaten by competition.  Some of my best friends are other artists from Etsy and we work off of and respect one another’s ideas.  They inspire me and push me to be more creative not competitive.   I think that is what I liked about art in the first place that it wasn’t competitive.  In high school, I didn’t want to play sports I just wanted to paint and draw. I remember my dad kicking us kids out of the house for the day to “go play outside” and my sister and her friends would head to the ball fields where I’d climb a tree and draw.  In my senior year I won national recognition for a watercolor of a seahorse that I painted for Sea World. 
  My life has worked out just fine but a lot of ironic things happened that made me wonder how it could have been different.  I went to a catholic school for 9 years of my life and they didn’t teach art there.  I wasn’t exposed to art until I was in 10th grade.  Then I became obsessed with art of all kinds, art history, art museums and art class. Most of my high school photos in the year book show me sporting a Salvador Dali t-shirt, a Van Gogh, M.C. Escher or  Andy Warhol.
 Somehow I wound up at the only college in my area that actually taught glass blowing as an art but I didn’t take it.  I hadn’t found my passion yet. I went to school for occupational therapy and worked in the health field for many years off and on.  I currently care for  mentally disabled adults on my farm part time.  I don’t mind the work I do, it is very satisfying, but it isn’t my passion.
  I am a proud mother of an active 9 year old daughter who holds office in our county 4-H club and a wife.  We live on a 137 year old farm, so that means I’m always fixing something!  We have a wide variety of animal rescues here at Misfit farms, everything from unwanted sugar gliders to rescued horses.  All of this keeps me quite busy.  I am also active on our farmer’s grange and volunteer at church.  Where we live is almost like taking a step back in time.  We don’t have most modern conveniences and most of our day is spent outside working or preparing for winter. We sell brown and blue eggs (yes, some chickens lay blue eggs), make our own syrup from the trees, honey from the bees, chop wood for heat and live off of what we have grown and put up for winter.  I live in the kind of small town that when you’re trying to decide what you want to do this weekend your options are the tractor pull or the square dance.  I love living in a small town.

Tammy's daughter at the farm.

How did you first get interested in working with glass?

My husband first noticed that everything that I was drawn to when decorating our new home was glass.  Glass dishes, glass curtain rods, glass lighting, and glass vases, everything seemed to center around glass. He asked me if I’d like to try and learn about glass.  He bought me the supplies and gave me the push and I got started and have never stopped!  He has always been very supportive of my art talent no matter the medium.   Of course, every now and again I find my mind wandering asking myself, "what if I had been exposed to art since kindergarten and what if I went to school for glass blowing?  Where would I be today?"  But then I quickly snap back to reality when I realize it really doesn’t matter because I’m right where I want to be anyway so all is well that ends well.

What is your favorite piece of art you've created so far?  Why was this your favorite?

  I know this is a strange answer but it is an honest one.  My favorite piece of art is the one I am currently working on.  For me, the pleasure comes from the process not the end result.  This may be why I don’t have trouble selling my work because once I am finished with it, I like for it to move on where someone else can enjoy it and make more room for the next project.   I do have a few pieces of art in my home that are permanent, my back door is of a horse.   I am currently working on a Dutch door for my dining room of my rescue haflingers looking over a stall door.  I can’t explain the passion I feel when creating a new design, the challenge, the colors, the cuts, the design, the smell of the solder, the sound of the glass cutting, even the feel of my rough calloused fingers when I’ve worked for too long.  I even enjoy the parts that other glass artists dislike, the monotony of foiling every piece by hand and the joy I get from polishing it for hours to a shine I just can’t describe.  It all gives me great pleasure.  My art as in my life I do everything the old fashion way, I don’t use diamond saws to cut the pieces for my designs, if I can’t cut the piece myself with my hand cutter I don’t think it should be cut. If the glass has to be forced to break at a certain angle then it opens up the opportunity for it to break later as a stress fracture after the project is finished.  I just don’t complicate things if the glass doesn’t want to break for me I go back to the drawing board, literally. My tools are the most basic for glass, I don’t invest my time or money in every new product that comes along.  My favorite tool happens to be the pencil because we all started with one and it isn’t really about the tool it is about what you can do with it.

A work in progress, Blazer

What inspires you most in your art?

I think like any artist I am inspired by my surroundings.  I choose to surround myself with nature and animals, flowers and farm.  Every day I seem to have more ideas than I have time.  Ideas are all around us, we just need to open our eyes and see them.  Simple everyday things inspire me like the pumpkins and the gourds growing in the fall, birds’ nests, the honey bees, the maple trees, rocks (especially agates) and glass. Any kind of glass, from the green glass beer bottle to the colorful canning jars, there is something about the weight of a glass item in your hand that gives me a feeling of quality I don’t get with plastic.

What was the biggest success story you had with rehabilitating an animal?

The biggest success I’ve had rehabilitating an animal may depend on your definition of success.  I would probably say it is my cat Ashley (better known as the cat that lives under my bed) who we got from the shelter when we moved here.  I wanted the cat that had been there the longest and they explained to me that she wasn’t adoptable.  I assured them I understood and 3 hours later they had trapped her for us.  To this day she rattles around this old farmhouse and gets to live her life out in peace and freedom.  I explained our farm motto to our 3 year old when taking in a feral cat, “not every pet here wants or needs to be petted”.  We have other cats for pets but this one was adopted for the sake of a rescue and she truly is.  She doesn’t like us and doesn’t need to, she is only handled once a year when I trap her and vaccinate her.  Not many people adopt unconditionally like this, most people expect that someday the animal will come to love them.  That isn’t always the case, sometimes they are incapable of love for whatever reason, that just means I need to show my love for her in a different way, in her case by respecting the space and privacy she deserves. I know and accept the fact that this cat has lived here 7 years and is unwilling to allow me or anyone to pet her and I am okay with that.  Most people may not consider this a success but I do because what was her alternative?  She was an older cat when we got her and her options were slim at best.  We only take animals at Misfit Farms that have no other options.  If we think that they can be placed in another home then we allow that to make room for the ones that have no other options.
  My daughter and husband would probably tell you that the most successful rescue was our baby haflinger horse, Blazer.  We rescued him when he was 3 months old and was with a large herd of haflinger horses in the hills of Southern Ohio.  His mother was bought at an auction and not knowing she was already bred, she was let loose to run with the herd for the winter.  He was born in harsh conditions with nothing for shelter but the trees and nothing to eat but what he could find.  This suits this breed of horse well generally, but it didn’t suit him.  In his herd there were a lot of dominate horses that wouldn’t allow him to drop his head to eat and his mother refused to care for him.  Soon he became so malnourished that he didn’t have the extra energy to grow hair.  His before and after pictures show you the dramatic difference that we made in his life.  What you can’t see is the difference he has made in ours.  We took turns hand feeding him because he was so afraid to drop his head to eat he wouldn’t eat out of a bucket.  It took us 3 months of around the clock care to get him to look the way he does now.  Our other haflinger is named Jellybean and she is a 9 year old haflinger that was at the auction because she was too quiet.  That meant that she didn’t stand up for herself and other horses picked on her and they were tired of paying for vet bills to stitch her back together.  She has been the perfect 4-H horse for my daughter and the perfect surrogate mother  for Blazer.  There are a few things I have learned over the years doing rescues and one of them is I’m not always the best one to teach a mistrusting animal, usually a well-adjusted calm confident animal is.  Blazer grew up healthy and the only thing to match his draft horse strength is his sense of humor.  He is always up to something.  I have found him sunning himself on our deck and he has startled me more than once when I was supposed to be relaxing in the hot tub after a long day’s work.  He is in perfect health now and I’m guessing from the looks of things he may have a career in jumping ahead of him.  He is in training now to learn to carry a rider which isn’t very hard for him.  He is happy just to be around people and he doesn’t seem to mind having a job to do.  Someday, my daughter may take him to the fair when old Jellybean is too quiet and not fast enough for her anymore.  Either way, job or no job, both horses will live their lives out here at Misfit Farms no matter what!

Tammy with her horses, Blazer (lying down) and Jellybean

Do you hope to continue your work with rescuing animals in need?  Would you like to expand your farm if you could afford to do it?

 As long as there is a breath in me I will continue to rescue animals.  It is who I am not just what I do.  Since our rescues are usually long term, meaning this will be their forever home, we could have them for up to 40 years.  Draft horses live to be well into their 40’s.  We also have special needs dogs that live with us in our home and are part of the family.  Dalmatians are my favorite breed and a breed in need.  I have had dalmatians as a rescue for over 15 years now.  One of the problems of their breed is that they can be born deaf.  I love a challenge!  We are currently raising 2 deaf dals with the help of our hearing dalmatian.  I taught him the signs first and he then in turn taught the deaf dals, this proved to be much easier than trying to teach the deaf dals myself.  The deaf dals are the most challenging of all of my rescues.  Dalmatians are hyper active dogs normally, just imagine that plus constant barking, insecurity problems and medical conditions including seizures.   I’m sure other animals in need will find their way to our farm, they somehow do.  We have taken in a blind sheep, deformed llamas, alpacas and bottle baby goats among many others.  My goal is to be able to afford to give the animals the attention they need for the rest of their lives and that sometimes means I have to say no to some.  There is only so much of my time, money and attention to go around.  I think my family and I are at a comfortable balance numbers wise with the animals that currently reside here.  If funds permitted I’d improve the conditions that we have instead of rescuing more animals at this time.  As I said we live in an 1880’s farm house so we don’t have the conveniences of other barns.  We’d like to have water and electric ran out to our barns someday so that taking out fresh water didn’t take up so much of our time and energy around here.  The winters are especially hard with frozen water buckets.  Another long term goal of ours would be to expand the dog’s yard.  Yes, we live in the country and have our dogs fenced in.  We need to take special precautions with our deaf pups and having them secured at all times is one of them.  They have a small fenced in yard and go on walks twice a day but we dream of a larger area for them to romp and run and play in.  So trust me there are always updates to be made, fences to mend (especially with Blazer), and things to do here on the farm.  I dream it will someday be a place of rest and not always work for us and the animals to enjoy together.  Another thing that we think is important is our animals actually have their own checking account.  We make sure there is no chance we won’t have the money to continue our work for the animals we have committed to.   We set aside money that comes from donations or our own pocket book to cover expenses for medical care, consulting a professional trainer, food and repair bills.  We leave nothing to chance here at Misfit farms, the animals that live here will have no worries for the rest of their lives.

One of Tammy's dalmatians

What is your favorite way to spend a day off?

 My favorite way to spend a day off is to sleep in!  I enjoy my life so much we rarely if ever go on vacation because as I tell my husband why leave when I am in paradise?   We are actually going on vacation for a week this summer and rented a cabin on the Ohio River and are taking all of our dogs with us!  I wonder whose canoe will tip first, mine with 2 crazy dalmatians or my husband and his 200lb mastiff rescued dog “Mack”.  So even when we are on vacation we tend to go do things that are very much natural and include our animals.
  If I have a day off and I am not doing glass, I am usually doing something related to glass. Either taking a trip to the city to see the new exhibit at the museum, or appreciating and being inspired by nature or maybe just a lazy afternoon in the hammock with sweet tea in one hand and a glass catalog in another.  Somehow, I usually find time to weave both  glass and animals into my day.

Tell me where people can see your work...

My glass can be found at the Canal Fulton Glassworks Gallery at 215 Market Street West ~ Canal Fulton, Ohio 44614 , at the Newpointe church bookstore in Dover, Ohio, at local Louisville Shops on Main Street in town or at the farmer's market, various local craft shows TBA, and online at my Etsy shop  or at my website and on Facebook
I am also fortunate to have loyal customers and word of mouth has continued to be my best advertisement.

Examples of Tammy's glass designs

I can tell you have a real passion for your artwork and the farm full of animals you care for.  I really appreciate you taking some time out of your busy schedule to tell us about your life.  Thank you!

Editor's note:  Tammy had a name conflict with another vendor and has since the publishing of this interview changed her company name to Whirl Girl Glass.  She can now be found at  and  I have updated the article to show the new name and links. Thank you!


  1. What a great blog! A great post about a fantastic artist and a good human being. Love it.

  2. Wonderful post!! Tammy and I became good friends on Etsy, and I am truly inspired by her huge heart as well as her incredible talent. Love the glass pieces she made that brighten my room! Be sure and check out her beautiful shop.

  3. Wonderful post! I loved reading even more about the wonderful life and work of a dear friend!

  4. WoW Tammy! I'm so impressed! You are one busy lady. We sound very similar in that we both live in small towns & love self-sufficiency of sorts. What a great interview. I really feel like I've been able to get to know you better. Your artwork is beautiful!