Monday, April 18, 2016

Glass Art: A Special Visit to Artist Cassandria Blackmore’s Vivid Studio and Family Residence in Historic Santa Barbara

Come with me to meet Cassandria, see her at work on new verre églomisé paintings, and learn about the history of her studio, where Diego Rivera once worked.

The newly issued Santa Barbara Home & Garden magazine features the wonderful historic studio and home of Cassandria Blackmore, her husband, Jon, a musician, and their two children Orion and Leona.

I was fortunate to be introduced to Cassandria some years go by interior designer, Brian Dittmar, the art director of THE STYLE SALONISTE. Her abstract work is powerful, emotive, and engaging and her figurative paintings are wonderfully daring and witty.

Cassandria’s new studio and digs are inspiring. Let’s pay a visit to see her smashing art, and meet her beautiful family.

The studio is part of Santa Barbara’s legacy and history, and there’s more about that.

Come with me for a fast-paced visit.

I loved the Blackmore feature in the new special issue of Santa Barbara Home & Garden so much that I contacted my friend and colleague, Gina Tolleson, the magazine's longtime executive editor. Jennifer Smith Hale is the editorial director. I asked Gina’s permission to publish the photos of the Blackmore story—and to let my readers know that the brilliant Santa Barbara Home & Garden is back after a brief break.

The new issue is a fantastic mix of Mission-style houses, talented designers such as Christina Rottman, vibrant shopping (Ellen is a neighbor), and local knowledge. To subscribe: or visit

Cassandria's Story

Cassandria Blackmore studied art and glass-making in Seattle and grew up in San Francisco and Portland. It was in Seattle that she first experimented with painting on glass, also known as reverse painting, or verre églomisé. Painting figurative or abstract images on glass has a long tradition—and it’s revered in the French art world and has a long history in Chinese portraiture.

50" x 65"

40" x 40"

"Asimi Krema VII"
40" x 61"

"Nerissa Amphitrite"
40" x 40"

"Blue Kapnos L II"
40" x 56"

15" x  68"

Cassandria works both in pure bursts of color, and in charming and witty and highly detailed figurative images. Her method: she paints on the back of a sheet of glass, then places the glass on the floor and artfully shatters it. She then brings the shards back into the frame, affixes them securely, and creates a solid frame for the completed piece. The shimmering glass gives her pieces a vibrant appeal and a very dimensional and dramatic look.

"Day Dreamer"
40" x 40"

"Midnight Dip"
48" x 32"

"Miso Hungry"
48" x 48"

"Polka Dot Bikini"
48" x 35"

"Queen Bee"
48" x 31"

"Phoebe The Lettuce Queen"
(Portrait of the artist's grandmother)
48" x 32"

The art of verre églomisé is a fascinating one. Cassandria ‘reverse paints’ her images, painting highlights and up-close details on the sheet of sturdy glass first, and then filling in background details and scenes last. The work is exacting and requires focus and fine artistry.

The Historic Santa Barbara Studio

The studio and building have a vivid artistic history that goes back to 1907. It was built by photographers Carolyn and Edwin Gledhill. 

The Gledhills photographed notable artists and writers and philanthropists, some of whom were guests who stayed at the historic Potter Hotel that once was across the street. Among the portraits shot in this building were Upton Sinclair, Phoebe Hearst, William Boeing, Condé Nast, Thomas Moran, shown here.

Later Edwin Gledhill along with Pearl Chase became very instrumental in creating the look and feel of Santa Barbara today. They even named the historical society library after Edwin Gledhill.

Many notable artists had studios in the building over the years. Diego Rivera and Francis Rich worked together in the studio below the upstairs living quarters, now the Blackmore family residence.

Diego was asked to come to Santa Barbara by actress Irene Rich to paint a portrait of her daughter sculptor Francis Rich. He loved Santa Barbara so much that he asked to stay in the building and used it as his studio while finishing commissions.

Diego Rivera and Francis Rich working together in the Santa Barbara studio.

Brian Dittmar: At Home with Cassandria’s Art

Brian Dittmar, a noted interior designer in San Francisco, has been the art director of THE STYLE SALONISTE since Day One—almost seven years ago. Brian introduced me to his dear friend Cassandria Blackmore about five years ago when he was scouting for and decorating her chic new studio in Pacific Heights, San Francisco.

Brian has acquired many of Cassandria’s paintings for his clients — and he prizes the Cassandria painting that has pride of place in his living room, above. That’s his beloved pug, Freddie, stealing the limelight.

I talked to Brian about Cassandria recently:

DDS: Hi, Brian, how did you and Cassandria meet?
Cassandria called me in 2006 as many artists do who want to work with interior designers. As it so happened, I had a project at the St Regis Residences and we were looking for unique artwork. Her reverse painted shattered glass was a perfect fit for this project and we commissioned her to do a piece for my clients. Through this process, she and I became good friends.

Commission for Brian Dittmar's client at the St Regis Residences

DDS: What do you especially love about her work?
Her process of making her art is original and fascinating. Cassandria loves imperfection and that led her to this medium of back-painted shattered glass — or 
verre églomisé. She began many years ago when feeling low during an endless, grey winter in Seattle and painted a self-portrait on the glass of a photo frame which she then suddenly decided to smash on the floor. Afterwards, she decided to reassemble the broken painting and glued it back together. The result — and the process of putting the art back together after shattering it — took on an intensity that spoke to her. Ironically, she is also dyslexic — so the concept of reverse painting on the glass also struck a chord with her personal life.

DDS: As a designer who is obsessed with craft, you are drawn to her craft and art.
Yes, Cassandria has perfected her technique, back-painting small and large abstract works that evoke landscapes and skyscapes. After the paintings dry, they are glued to plywood held in custom aluminum frames; she then shatters or fragments the glass with a hammer or cutter. The joints are carefully grouted and custom cast hooks are used to wall-mount the finished artwork in such venues as the Bellagio, Cosmopolitan and Aria Hotels in Las Vegas, the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando, the collections of the Peninsula Hotel group, Ritz Carlton Hotels, and other private collections including the Bill and Melinda Gates Collection.

Brian with the Blackmores on a recent visit to Santa Barbara.

DDS: You worked with Cassandria on her Fillmore Street Studio in San Francisco.
Yes, in 2010, while she was still living in Seattle, Cassandria decided she should open a storefront studio in San Francisco. I helped her scout locations. A small space on the once-shabby end of Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights suited her needs and the lease was signed. Cassandria and I then began transforming the downtrodden space into a clean and crisp white box in which to display her vibrantly colored shattered glass pieces. The walls and ceiling were painted as white as white can be (a custom mix by Benjamin Moore) and the existing concrete floors (exposed once the ugly laminate flooring had been removed) were stained a rich gray. The store front was painted with a special zinc-based paint that weathers to a rich deep bronze. Since opening her studio, that block of Fillmore Street has been energized with quite a few new stores and restaurants.

DDS: Brian, thank you. So inspiring.

The Cassandria Blackmore studio in San Francisco.

A view of Cassandria's studio before she acquired and transformed the space in 2010.

The Cassandria Blackmore studio, above, is at 1906 Fillmore Street (at Bush Street), San Francisco. The studio, a showcase of Cassandria’s most recent work, is on a very lively block of Fillmore Street, opposite Invision Optometry, across from Florio restaurant, and around the corner from Out the Door (OTD), by chef Charles Phan who founded the great Slanted Door restaurant in the city. 

A Walk in San Francisco's Pacific Heights

For a very pleasant ramble, a starting point could be Cassandria’s studio (for window shopping if it is not open), then to Fraiche almost next door for frozen yoghurt with housemade mochi. Continue then a block up to NARS for great makeup. Keep walking up the hill—to Mudpie for children’s apparel, and to Browser Books for fantastic reading. There’s the Clay cinema, and at the corner of Clay Street stands the great Nest design and style shop. Wander further up the hill, to Margaret O’Leary, Jambo, Freda Salvador shoes, Aesop, and at Jackson and Fillmore is Mayflower Market. Hop in there for a fantastic made-to-order sandwich where you’ll join the lunch line of on-duty police officers, doctors from nearby hospitals, and construction workers. Head west a block along Jackson Street, and take your sandwich up to Alta Plaza Park to enjoy the sunshine and bay view.

Let me know what you think of my tour, please.

Some of Cassandria's most recent work hangs in her Santa Barbara studio.

The work of Stephen Edwards is also displayed in the light-filled gallery space adjacent to Cassandria's studio.

Cassandria Blackmore has studios in Seattle, Carmel, San Francisco (by appointment only) and Santa Barbara. For more information and commissions:

Santa Barbara Studio and Mailing Address:
(Private Gallery — By Appointment Only)
112 Chapala Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
 tel: 415 . 944 . 0057

Carmel by the Sea Studio:
On 6th between Dolores and Lincoln 
tel: 415 . 944 . 0057 

Seattle Studio: 
1115 East Pike Street 
tel: 206 . 860 . 3544 

San Francisco Studio: 
1906 Fillmore Street 
tel: 415 . 944 . 0057

Photography of the Blackmore family and residence by Nancy Neil, used with express permission.

Cassandria Blackmore with daughter, Leona.

The Blackmore family in their vintage Ambassador convertible. 

Historic images used with permission.

Photograph of Brian Dittmar's living room by Brian Dittmar.

SANTA BARBARA MAGAZINE, and the newly issued Santa Barbara Home & Garden: To subscribe: or visit


Karena said...

Dear Diane,
Cassandria's art is absolutely stunning. I especially love her portraiture and her technique is incredibly creative, so intuitive.

The Arts by Karena

Mimi's Poor Blog said...

I lived for many years on Natoma just off of the road this home is on. Since 1971 I have wondered about it. Great to see an artist is living there.