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Arts and Culture Long Beach Island

By Matt Burton

This year brings the 12th annual LBI Artists Open Studio Tour, which is held each year on the last weekend of June. I recently caught up with Mary Tantillo, glass artist and owner of SwellColors Glass Studio and Gallery, who organized and brought the first LBI Artists Open Studio Tour to fruition.

MATT BURTON: Mary, what inspired you to make stained glass and how did you get your start?

MARY TANTILLO: I have always appreciated how glass interacts with light. The way certain glass refracts light is visually interesting and changing all the time. When I was a child, my mom would take me to the Surf City 5 & 10 and we would buy the plastic stained glass sun catchers you could assemble and make at home by melting them in the oven. When I opened SwellColors 11 years ago, my mom gave me the first plastic stained glass I had ever made; she had saved it from my childhood. I keep that displayed in my studio in Surf City. I am lucky to have such supportive parents.

MB: Early on you worked in pharmaceuticals. When did you decide to make the career switch and become a full time artist?

MT: I switched to being a full time artist about 12 years ago. I had a major shift in how I was feeling about my life working in pharmaceuticals. I felt like my art was always there, pushing back at me while my real job was hindering me like a drought. I was burnt out. I read this book that said if you want something you have to imagine that you already have it and really believe it. I took some time off from work and visited with family and friends for a few weeks. When I returned I drove to work, took a leave of absence for the summer and basically never went back. I spent

that summer working on my art in my garage. Six months later I opened the original SwellColors studio. (I relocated to Surf City as a result of the original space sustaining damage from Sandy.)

MB: What was your big break?

MT: I did my first solo show with you at m.t. burton gallery. I remember being totally panicked that I would not have enough panels to show. As it turns out I had great turnout and it really boosted my confidence. I am forever grateful for you taking that chance on me to exhibit. Besides that, I have never really had a big break. It has been a long haul with lots of ups and downs. Every day is a new challenge.

MB: I have always been a fan of your work. Can you tell me about your 100 day series? How many times have you gone back to making a 100 day series?

MT: When I first opened SwellColors I had this idea to make a wave for every day of summer and called the collection the 100 Waves of Summer. Little did I know that there are only actually 95 days in summer… so the collection extends into the fall a bit. That collection took me four years to complete as I worked out the kinks of producing that much art and running the business. I have since made follow-up collections titled Winter Sol, Primavera, and Harvest. There is now a wave for every day of the year. After Sandy, I did a series called “Reclaimed” which was a collection of seascapes and earthscapes of tumbled “sea glass.” I did this as part of my healing process from the storm. Last year I started a new collection which is a year of sun inspired panels. This first installment of this new collection was called Origin featuring suns from each day of Spring.

MB: You are the founder of the LBI Artists Open Studio Tour. Can you tell me a little about how it started and what the first year was like?

MT: I started the tour because I loved the studio tour I would go on when I lived back in Santa Cruz, California. That tour is hugely popular and goes on for three weekends. Going on the tour is a cool way to see how and why art is made and to buy art. When I moved back to LBI, it felt like the art community was almost non-existent, but I knew there were artists out there making. I saw the potential. I talked to you about it and you wanted in. Then I called Ann Coen. She jumped on board. Then I call Julie Goldstein along with Mark Tesi, then Chris Pfiel, Cathleen Englesen, Linda

Ramsay, Mikkey Tarantino, then the LBIF… I literally asked every artist I knew if they knew any other artist and enthusiastically shared my ideas. We had almost no budget, hand painted signs, a guidebook, a website, and 14 artists. The tour was a great success. Every artist sold work and people who attended were treated to a wide range of media including oil paintings, printmaking, photography, watercolors, pottery, glass, and mixed media. It was fun.

MB: How has it evolved?

MT: The tour has evolved to have more and more participants each year, both in number of artists and attendees. In general, there are way more people in the area openly interested in art and making art. It seems like each year the tour has more and more people attending. We are always encouraging people to share ideas and bind together to foster this environment of creating and doing. I am hoping the tour continues to grow with even more community involvement, with performing artists taking part, with local businesses offering entertainment, and maybe culinary arts. It would be really cool for the LBI region to be known not only for great beaches, the Bay, good food, and relaxed atmosphere, but also for our amazing art culture.

MB: Any advice for young artists?

MT: Trust yourself and take chances. Sometimes failures become your best-selling works. Get a thick skin, because what might seem like criticism could be really good advice or an idea. The hardest part of making art is getting started and giving yourself an endpoint to a project. If you are going to try and make a living with your art, then I would say, study business and accounting. Move forward by following what makes your heart beat.

For more information on Mary Tantillo visit:

For more information on LBI Artists Open Studio Tour visit:

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