By Sue Kern-Fleischer

At a time when many arts and entertainment events have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Arizona’s largest and longest-running artist studio tour, Hidden in the Hills, is happening Friday, November 20, to Sunday, November 22, and Friday, November 27, to Sunday, November 29.

Coordinated by the nonprofit Sonoran Arts League, this year’s 24th annual, free, self-guided tour features 139 artists at 35 socially distanced, private studios throughout the scenic Desert Foothills communities of Cave Creek, Carefree and North Scottsdale.

Glass artist Sandy Pendleton is participating as a studio host for her second consecutive year. Her spacious Cave Creek studio will feature four guest artists: her sister, mixed media painter Nancy Pendleton; jeweler Carol Tenwalde; and Mark and Nancy Dabrowski, a husband-and-wife team that creates contemporary wood sculpture.

Pendleton grew up in the Midwest, living much of her younger years in Michigan. While she was always creative, she enjoyed science and math, which helped her succeed in her technical career at IBM, working in service development and project management.

She and her husband moved to Arizona in 1981, and now that they are retired, they split their time between their homes in Cave Creek and Pinetop.

Pendleton’s passion for glass art was ignited in 2003 after she took a basic glass class at her local community college.

“Like so many people, I fell in love with glass while gazing at beautiful stained-glass windows. I was attracted by the intense colors and the interaction of light and glass,” Pendleton says.

“When I took a class working with glass fired in a kiln, I was instantly attracted to the transformation of the glass by the heat of the kiln. It was like magic.”

She kept pursuing her new interest, taking more classes and experimenting on her own.

“I love glass in all forms, I once took a glassblowing workshop, but I quickly realized that doing kiln work suits my personality better,” she says. “Glassblowing is quick, focused and requires being ‘in the moment.’ I like to fuss and spend time ‘in the weeds.’ I enjoy losing myself in tiny pieces of glass until my vision emerges. Kiln work allows me to revel in the process.”

Pendleton’s work has evolved significantly since those early days. Pieces may involve a variety of kiln processes. They often involve hundreds of small pieces of glass carefully placed over the course of a series of carefully controlled firings to achieve the desired results.

Her colorful fused glass sculptures include several series, such as her intricate, multilayered glass houses; her captured motion sculptures, where glowing, molten glass is manipulated in a kiln to create unusual one-of-a-kind pieces; and her Earth-inspired sculptures, which are iridescent accented with additional glass textures that allow the pieces to react to changing light over the course of the day.

Art soothes her soul

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Pendleton found solace in her work.

“During the early days, I was listening to the news constantly. I was anxious, unsettled and I was becoming a nervous wreck,” she says. “Finally, I turned off the radio and started back to work with glass. I am so grateful to have a passion that can consume my attention for hours on end. Sometimes, I start with pieces that are whimsical and fun, such as a vase of flowers for my desk or a pair of lovebirds inspired by visitors to my backyard. The act of creating is soothing to the soul.”

Lately, she has been devoting time to her series of “Glass Houses,” which she created last year.

“As we have found ourselves sheltering in place, we are reminded that home is our place of sanctuary. We take refuge and draw our loved ones near to us. The four walls are not confining; they are comforting,” she says.

The familiar form of a house and the associated concept of home allows her to explore a variety of themes.

“Home is a state of mind. Home is where the spirit resides. Color and texture are about the senses, whether it is the calming effects of gazing out over water or the riotous colors of autumn. Put multiple dwellings together and you create neighbors and community,” she says.

Pendleton has also been energized by her new “Story Baskets” series of glass sculpture.

“I have spent half of my life in the Southwest, and I have always appreciated the traditions and color palette of native people,” she says. “I think of the ‘Story Baskets’ as a contemporary take on the tradition of basketry.”

The focal point of her glass “baskets” is created by layering glass pieces together and melting them into a slab.

“When the slab is sliced, it reveals patterns created by the movement of the glass. Mixing transparent and opaque glass adds depth and helps me to achieve the impression of a woven basket. The patterns suggest images and stories in my imagination, and it is always fascinating to learn what stories other viewers bring to the pieces,” she says.

Passionate about process

Even before the pandemic, Pendleton found the process of creating glass art to be meditative.

“Glass is not forgiving, so I have to think through what I am doing and I must be patient,” she says. “Placing tiny pieces of glass is more therapeutic than tedious for me. I am still mindful of size and color placement, but it is an opportunity to let my mind wander.”

She uses a lot of textures, which means she needs to carefully control the heat of her kiln. But she also embraces the surprises that she encounters when working with hot glass.

“The hot glass manipulation is exciting and so spontaneous. The thinking is in the setup. Once the glass is hot, I have only a few seconds to open the kiln and move the glass before it firms up again. I never know what I have until the glass has cooled, and each piece is always unique,” she says.

Color is also very important to her, and while she typically gravitates to warm colors, like red, she shares that she’s now on a “blue kick,” having recently discovered how to create tiny blue bubbles.

“The bubbles are embedded in the glass, and I’m in love with them,” she says. “The curvature of the little blue bubbles changes how the light bounces off each piece.”

Sandy Pendleton’s Studio No. 10 will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both weekends of the Hidden in the Hills tour.

“One of the hardest things about this pandemic has been the cancellation of so many art shows and gallery closures. I miss the opportunity to share my creativity with others, and I’m really looking forward to welcoming guests to our studio. If there was ever a great time to treat yourself to a new piece of art, this is it.”

Hidden in the Hills, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, November 20, to Sunday, November 22, and Friday, November 27, to Sunday, November 29, throughout Cave Creek, Carefree and North Scottsdale,