I was always aware of things that other people were not. I could walk down the street and yet my eye would move up, down, or above the trees. It always seemed to be moving, seeing color, and the way that birds communicated in the sky. All these things were leading me to this actual connection of becoming an artist.
I started out making jewelry and painting on shirts and wood. It was basically a hobby. Until one day, 15 years ago, this man walked to my vendor table and purchased about six pieces of my work. That was an impetus for me to think of myself as an artist.
Around that same time I went with a friend to a stained glass workshop. When I walked into that place and saw all the different glass I was absolutely in awe. The only other time I had seen stained glass was in church as a kid. I remember sitting in those pews and not listening to the minister. I would just watch how the sun came through the glass in the windows and when it clouded up what happened.
After the stained glass class, I didn’t know how but I knew that would be my medium. However, I didn’t want to do traditional stained glass windows. I wanted to be able to tell stories in a three-dimensional way. As a self-taught artist that involved a lot of trial and error. It literally means that there are these vacuums you are in because you’re not around instructors or students. When I was growing up in school girls were taught how to become housewives, while guys were taught soldering and making molds. So I had to figure this all out for myself.
Working with glass is full of challenges. A year ago, I was working on a piece for an exhibition at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. But I had to drop out of the show because the glass piece I was working on wouldn’t do what I needed it to do. It was a crushing blow. But I love working with glass. When I get it right, I’m able to give the glass movement and tell stories.
The stories in my work are inspired by my experiences. I come from poverty. My family made sure we had food and a roof over our head but we were financially poor. That experience helped to focus my social and political message in my work. As African-Americans we brought so much to this country. We need to be seen and celebrated. So I like to think of my work as celebrating our connection with the entire universe.
Celestine Wilson-Hughes’ work is currently on display in the exhibition “Stax: Visions of Soul,” on view at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis, TN.