Art has been part of the human experience for millennia; witness the cave painting of Altamira, Spain and Lascaux, France, which date to 15,000 – 10,000 BCE. That human beings need to express themselves in some form or fashion for whatever reason is well-established; that there is a universally agreed upon definition of art and artists is not. Our series will introduce you to six artists who have chosen to convey something about themselves, their life experiences, their craft and their talents through the prism we call “art.” We thank them for sharing their art and their time with us.
Gail Coachman Alexander’s passion for art has never wavered. Since the age of four, art-making has been central to her life’s goals and at the core of her professional career. Like many people involved in aesthetic pursuits Gail is not content with mastering a single technique or medium. She has maintained the kind of curiosity that fuels discovery and personal growth. An art teacher and graphic artist for decades, Gail has always understood the need for aesthetic expression in the lives of individuals.
Gail was born and raised in Miami and graduated from Bethune Cookman College with a degree in Arts and Art Education in 1974. She spent the bulk of her career at Allapattah Middle School in Miami as the Graphic Communications/Industrial Arts teacher, from 1980 to 2009. During that time she was the Lead Teacher in the Magnet Art Program for 11 years and was a four-time “Teacher of the Year” award winner. Teaching the arts is a tradition in her family. Her mother, Ollie Yaeger was an arts educator in Miami-Dade schools for 44 years.
In 2005, Gail was chosen to attend a special art course at the University of Miami free of charge. It was here that she discovered an affinity for working with glass.
“I had the opportunity to attend two classes over two years to learn the many and varied techniques of shaping glass. The program was designed to have the students work in other media, but I convinced them to let me concentrate on glass,” said Gail.
Her very first major work, “Blue-eyed Brother,” was a success. The 16-inch tall face of a black man from the Caribbean includes bits of glass that were by-products of the art of other students. Recycling glass is one of Gail’s interests—another of her works is a large blue turtle made from old glass ashtrays she got from a restaurant (it was sold in a silent auction to benefit a charity and was in good company with artwork by Romero Britto and other prominent Miami-based artists).
Some years ago Gail met Penni Praigg, a stained-glass artist with the Miami Glass Art Studio. Praigg, an artistic inspiration for Gail, was closing her studio and offered her a “truckload” of glass in 2007 (the year Praigg passed away). Other influential people in Gail’s artistic life include her mentor, painter Orlando Rivero, and her friend of 30 years, Dr. Ana Price. Price, a past mayor for the City of South Miami, photographs all of Gail’s art pieces.
Gail’s work has been shown at the Lowe Art Museum, the Grove House Gallery, the Oscar Thomas Memorial Exhibits and the Kuumba Art during Art Basel, among others. She will be exhibiting at the Oscar Thomas again this year and will be showing her work at the SOMIartwalk ©. Gail does torch work (bead-making), glass blowing, slumping, casting, caramelizing, draping and fusing.
Art is central to Gail’s life; however she continues to teach, to chair the South Miami Martin Luther King, Jr. parade and breakfast, and she is the mother of son Khary Alexander and grandmother of Khary, Jr. (18), Aaron (14), and Jaylen (10).
Of her work she writes, “I see figures and images as an outline; glass has its own identity where shapes are formed by light. The intense color makes its own destiny. Glass is a material formed by fire and shaped by human breath, nothing else can offer an artist creatively what is possible in glass.”