Retired school counselor Mary Beth Utt enjoys the creativity of making fused-glass art from her Surf City home.
Mary Beth Utt hopes people find as much joy in her fused glass art as she does. If her ever-increasing sales are any indication, the year she has spent making art full-time has been worth it.
The former school counselor began working with sea glass and resin, then a small kiln (she now has three) allowed her to move into creating fused glass art. Her first show was at Poplar Grove in 2018, then she began to attend summer and weekend festivals as an artist while remaining a school counselor. Life became so busy working two full-time jobs that in 2022 she retired from education after 29 years of helping children.
Since then, Utt has been busy working shows and festivals up and down the coast with the help of her husband. This past winter she traveled to Jupiter, Florida. Her spring shows were closer to home – Oak Island, Emerald Isle, Poplar Grove, Carolina Beach and Ocean Isle Beach. This summer she will be at weekly markets in Ocean Isle Beach and Topsail Beach as well as at various one-day festivals and markets, including two October shows, OceanFest and Autumn with Topsail.
Utt’s Facebook cover page photo illustrates one of her biggest selling items — an ocean wave, inspired by her coastal surroundings and, perhaps, her surfing son. Bursting with color and energy, the shades of blue in the waves roll from cobalt and aquamarine through cerulean and turquoise to artic, ending in clear, tenured glass evoking the foam as waves hit the shore. The fused-glass waves can be hung on the wall or in a window or rest in a half-circle metal stand.
At local markets, Utt’s booth showcases her Topsail Island home with sea turtles swimming across a glass serving dish, a trio of fish floating above a driftwood remnant of Hurricane Florence and the signature waves in various sizes. Nightlights bearing sailboats or sunflowers, daisies and violets, geometrics and abstracts in all shades of the rainbow are in constant demand, and she continues to add new designs. New this spring are small puck lights that hold a piece of fused glass art. The lights change colors, reflecting on the glass.
Beyond the ocean theme, bright gnomes and birds pose on small plant stakes. Flowers of all shapes and sizes — sunflowers, daisies, poppies, hydrangeas — are featured on nightlights, in frames of various sizes and suncatchers. She makes abstract and geometric designs too: studies in blue for a bathroom window, brights in lime and orange to hang near the bird feeder or from a low tree branch.
She has a knack for mixing design and color into various works of art as well as functional items.
In the fall season when there are not as many shows, Utt is busy fulfilling Facebook and Instagram orders as well as getting ready for holiday markets. She ships all over the United States, with Ohio among the top destinations. “We have a lot of visitors from Ohio,” she explains, adding that she has many repeat customers and summer folks who see her at a market and order later for gifts or commissions.
Christmas markets feature her glass trees of various sizes that sit on a cedar base made by local artist Frank Divinie of Surf City Wood Crafts. She also makes a wide variety of tree ornaments that can double as sun catchers, as well as nature-inspired art.
The Asheboro, North Carolina, native was a crafty child in a family of artists. She has fond memories of making Christmas ornaments with her grandmother.
“My neighbor taught me how to cross-stitch,” she says. “My dad is an artist. He went to the Ringling School of Art, had a sign painting business early on and then went into showroom design in the furniture business. One of my sisters is a potter, while the other two also have creative leanings. Our mom supports all our endeavors!”
Her path to fused glass stopped in schools along the way. Not as a student. She was an elementary and middle school counselor for nearly 29 years in Burlington and both New Hanover and Pender County schools. Her sons graduated from Topsail High School.
“I was always all about little kids, babysitting, being with the little cousins, neighbors, so when I went to college, that interest took me to the education field,” she says. “I did my undergraduate degree in high school social studies and after my internship, I realized I wanted to work more individually with kids, so I got my master’s in school counseling.”
Twice a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the avid Tar Heels fan offers the traditional blue foot with the black dot in wall hangings, garden stakes or anything else your Heel’s heart desires. If she doesn’t have it, she’ll make for you.
“I’ve made suncatchers designed for a particular window or pictures with a specific subject like mom’s favorite flower or even a name,” she says. Commissions are becoming an increasing part of her work from suncatchers with a favorite flower to drawer pulls, shower niches and cabinet door inserts.
Utt considered herself an optimist. She says that approach to life applies to fused-glass making as well.
“Well, that didn’t work out. What can we do with it now?” she says. “Glass can be very forgiving. So, if you mess up, you can smash it and make something else . . . add something. Tweak it and fire it again.”
Utt says she likes that flexibility, and her ability for “reevaluation of where it is and where it’s going.”