Marj Bates’ tale is colorful. A Scituate High School graduate, she left her quiet hometown to explore elsewhere and decided to take a job as a long-haul trucker. “I wanted to try it so I did it for a few years,” she says simply. “I lived through it and what it taught me was that if I can drive this flipping truck through an ice storm, I can do anything, so when I said ‘I’m going to make glass beads for a living’ and my mom laughed at me I said, ‘Yeah I can. Piece of cake.’ ‘How?’ she asked. ‘Ah details—I’ll figure it out.’”
Since 1993, Bates has been making her living as an artist working with glass as a medium. She started with beads, which she sold to a number of local stores. Today her largest orders include furniture knobs and lamp finials.Her studio on the ocean-facing Rebecca Road near the lighthouse is an explosion of color. Like a high school art room, it’s an invitation to create: drawings of her dog hang, a mosaic she decided to try is on a shelf, and her knobs are fastened to furniture and panels all around. Even she’s bright in her fiery red and orange poncho as she sits in the middle of it all and kicks up her feet. Her glass creations vary from playful—think bees on petals of flower knobs—to refined—swirls of ocean blues in statement jewelry pieces and finials.
Like stems, the long glass rods she works with stick out of vases in all directions. Bates works with a single gas flame at 1,600 degrees. As the glass melts, like a painter with a brush she wraps it around a kiln-coated rod, her technique so smooth and delicate it’s easy to forget she’s working with fire. Each bead, finial and knob is unique and made one at a time.
Bates is grateful for her creative life, but she’s not overly romantic about her career as an artist and she doesn’t leave out the ups and downs, the mortgages and bills, the toll it takes to work with your hands every day. Still, the artist path has proven worth it for Bates. “I wrote down on a piece of paper all the things I’ve done. I drove a rig through every state except Montana, got to know all the fishermen in town when I started the Community-Supported Fishery. Anything I want to try, I can call and ask someone for help. Some of my life was difficult, but this part? It rocks.”
In her light-filled studio surrounded by marshes, shingled homes and the ocean, she lights her torch, chooses a stem of glass and prepares for the uncertainty of creations that lie ahead. Marj Bates Studio, 28 Rebecca Road, Scituate