U alum pioneered methods for using recycled glass for art and uses solar panels installed through U Community Solar to make the process even more sustainable

When U alum Jodi McRaney-Rusho first explored creating art with post-consumer glass, she was met with discouraging responses from people in the glass art business. Some experienced artists flat out told her it couldn’t be done.

McRaney-Rusho, who began working with recycled glass as a full-time artist in 2002, couldn’t let that stand in her way. She had just purchased the most expensive kiln she could afford, and she had no money left to buy art glass.

Wind chimes made by U alum Jodi McRaney-Rusho, who powers her home studio with solar panels she purchased during the U's first U Community Solar program.

PHOTO CREDIT: The University of Utah

Wind chimes made by U alum Jodi McRaney-Rusho, who powers her home studio with solar panels she purchased during the U’s first U Community Solar program.

“It occurred to me that there was plenty of glass just lying around,” she said. “I began searching for information about how to use it, but nothing existed.”

She started researching bottle and window manufacturing methods to learn about how these types of glass were made industrially and then worked out how to adapt this information to a single-person studio.

It was three years before she produced a successful piece of glass, but along the way she produced volumes of notes and pioneered the process for using post-consumer glass for art.

To make glass beads, 3-D animals, wind chimes, large sculptural installations and more, McRaney-Rusho has to melt the glass using kilns heated to 1550 F for 12 to 18 hours. The slow rise in temperature and descent back to room temperature uses a lot of energy, so in 2014, she installed 17 rooftop solar panels through the U’s inaugural U Community Solar program.

“Since installing the panels, I’ve noticed that our power used has dropped by more than half,” she said.

This drop in business overhead allowed her to expand the business and offer free online educational tutorials so she can help artists worldwide learn how to recycle in their own studios. She has also started making molds, tools and kits for glass artists working with post-consumer glass.

U alum Jodi McRaney-Rusho in her home studio, which is powered, in part, by solar panels she purchased during the U's first U Community Solar program.

PHOTO CREDIT: The University of Utah

U alum Jodi McRaney-Rusho in her home studio, which is powered, in part, by solar panels she purchased during the U’s first U Community Solar program.

“All of the manufacturers of art glass in the U.S. are currently under investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency for pollution violations,” said McRaney-Rusho. “Suddenly glass artists are scrambling for information about how to use post-consumer glass, as it may soon be the only glass available. I’m so glad to be able to help other artists be more environmentally friendly.”

McRaney-Rusho owns Glass with a Past, and her art can be found in Gallery 873 near St. George and Concept SAL in Salt Lake City. In addition to smaller items, such as her line of glass animals, she also makes large installations, approximately 4 feet by 6 inches and 3 inches thick, weighing about 40 pounds. To make these, she grinds glass down to a powder, then filters, sorts and washes it to build new sheets of glass – essentially mixing her own glass. The galleries that sell her work tell the stories behind the finished pieces so buyers are aware of the measures she takes to be environmentally friendly.

With long, sunny days ahead, members of the U community who are interested in installing solar panels on their homes can once again participate in the U Community Solar program, which opened earlier this year and ends Sept. 30, 2016. The program offers U faculty members, staff, students, alumni, fans and campus guests the opportunity to purchase discounted rooftop solar panels and installations for their homes. Participants must live in Salt Lake, Summit or Davis counties.

McRaney-Rusho is hosting a solar home tour Monday, June 13, 4-6 p.m. Visitors can tour her studio, speak with representatives from the U’s Sustainability Office (program sponsor), Utah Clean Energy (program administrator) and Creative Energies (solar installer) to learn more about how to participate in the program. To attend, RSVP.

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