Willa (Light Ship) is a Light, Land, and Sky Sculpture that will be permanently installed in a remote area of the high desert in Northern New Mexico. Consisting of a chamber of light and glass hidden inside a 1978 Sportscoach Recreational Vehicle and large enough for 4 people to sit inside, Willa is an immersive environment for experiencing the cycles of light and time that exist in nature.
Inside Willa, hundreds of handmade cast glass objects collect light from the sky. The interior changes as light shifts throughout the day, sunrise to sunset, or as clouds pass overhead. There is no electric light in Willa. Light enters through a transparent roof, directly connecting the piece to the sky and its' cycles of day and night, weather, and seasons. Willa is lit solely by the sun and moon.
Willa is built for the slow read, for watching as light slowly shifts in rhythm with the time signature of the natural world. Willa is constantly changing hour by hour as the sun and moon track across the sky or as weather and seasons change, and may be experienced in many different ways over time. Long hopes viewers will spend time inside the piece, especially to watch sunset, sunrise or moonrise on a full moon night.
Long cast the glass for Willa herself in her
studio in Taos, New Mexico using the slow and labor intensive process of lost wax casting. Because each mold is destroyed in the firing
process, each of the hundreds of glass objects inside Willa is unique, there are no multiples. Long builds her Light Ships by hand, slowly. It took 4 years to build Willa.
Long uses glass and this labor intensive process to access light in her work. Long explains, "Glass catches light in extraordinary ways. It acts a strong collector and amplifier of light, allowing light collection in my work even under low light conditions like twilight and moonlight."
A search is underway for a permanent site to install Willa in a remote area of the New Mexico desert where visitors will stay overnight in an onsite cabin, allowing access to the piece at sunrise, sunset, or midnight on a full moon night. The journey to reach Willa at this remote site will be an important part of the experience of the work, an invitation to slow down and have an embodied experience of the work, land, and sky over time.
The next stage of the Willa Project is fundraising for Land for Willa's permanent home and to build an onsite cabin for visitors.
Photo Anne Staveley
Debbie Long is an artist who works with light. Long builds sculptures and immersive environments that unfold over time in rhythm with natural light from the sky, its' cycles of day and night, weather, and seasons.
For the last decade Long has focused on building Light Ships, large-scale outdoor light sculptures that connect directly to the sky, utilizing the sun and moon as their sole source of light. These works are chambers of light, color, and glass large enough to accommodate 4 people. Inside light constantly shifts as light in the sky changes from sunrise to sunset or under moonlight.
Light Ships are immersive environments for experiencing the cycles of light and time that exist in nature. They are built for the slow read, for watching as light slowly shifts in rhythm with the time signature of the natural world.
Long's first Light Ship, Naima Trailer, was built between 2012-2015.
The second, Willa, built between 2015-2020, was recently completed in her studio in Taos, New Mexico.
Born and raised in New Mexico, Long has exhibited nationally and internationally.
She lives and works in Taos, New Mexico, where she has made her home for 25 years.
Recent exhibitions include Long's first solo museum exhibition Debbie Long: Light Ships at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, NM on view March 19 - October 9, 2022; a 2022 solo exhibition at 5.Gallery in Santa Fe, NM; High Desert Test Sites in the Mojave Desert outside Los Angeles, CA curated by Dave Hickey, Andrea Zittel, Aurora Tang, and Libby Lumpkin; Chimento Contemporary in Downtown Los Angeles, CA; Gallery 128 Lower East Side in New York City, NY; Vivian Horan Gallery in New York City, NY; Boston University's Sherman Gallery in Boston, MA; and The Center for Contemporary Art in Santa Fe, NM.
Reviews and Press include Hyperallergic's review of Debbie Long: Light Ships at the Harwood Museum, the BBC Culture London, UK; The LA Weekly, Los Angeles, CA; Artillery Magazine, Los Angeles, CA; ArtSlant, Santa Fe, NM; and Art Studio America, a new book about US Artists in their studios from Trans Globe Publishing London, UK.
Grants include a Paseo Taos Community Grant in 2020, a Pilchuck Glass School Residency in 2004 and a Creative Capital Foundation Workshop in 2006. Lectures include The Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, NM and SITE Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Center for Contemporary Arts' Dialogue 360 lecture series in Santa Fe, NM.
Long completed Apprenticeships at Adobe Bronze Casting Foundry in Albuquerque, NM in 1993,1994 and at Walentinowicz Glass Studio in Illinois in 2004, 2006, 2007.
Long worked as studio assistant to Ken Price in Taos, New Mexico from 2006-2012.
Paul O'Conner September 2020
Several months have passed since my visit to Debbie Long’s studio, but the impression of that evening is clearly etched in my mind’s eye. Debbie invited me to experience a sunset viewing inside of her sculpture titled Willa (2015-2020). It’s an installation piece constructed inside of an old RV that measures 26 by 7.5 by 10 feet. The exterior is untouched and looks like any old RV you might see on the road or parked in an empty lot, innocuous in its aged patina. Inside is a clean rectangular space: walls, floor, ceiling all painted an impeccable white. In certain areas are clusters of handmade cast-glass objects that collect and transmit light from the sky. These amorphous shapes are a conduit from the natural world outside to the interior world created by Debbie. The only other items inside are two bean bags on which to sit, slouch, or lie down. Pretty minimal in a sense but ultimately extremely complex and profound to experience, that is if you have the time. This piece of art is really fully appreciated given the time to do so. I had been in a similar construction of Debbie’s years ago as part of an Exhibition at the Harwood Museum in Taos. It was in Larry Bell’s studio parking lot just across the street from the museum. The title of that piece is Naima Trailer (2012-2015), and it measured 18 by 7.5 by 9 feet. I stood in line with many others, waiting my turn to enter. Once inside, trying to take in as much as I could before my conscience reminded me of all the others hoping to enter, I left after three minutes. Much like walking around the Louvre or the Met, you get a certain hit from a piece that you stand in front of for a few minutes...but to spend three hours with a single work of art in complete isolation of any other stimulus is another story.
That’s what I had with Willa. Debbie and I entered around 7 p.m. and re-emerged about 10 p.m. Three hours alternately sitting or lying down on the white bean-bag pouf, watching the subtlest of changes as the sun began its final descent into the horizon. The glass objects, which are situated on the walls and ceiling, reflect and cast various hues of amber, yellow, blue, green, and purple. All of this happening on an ever-changing background as the white walls and ceiling started shifting in accordance with the diminishing light. Still, I noticed the shape of the “box” we were sitting in, and I was physically aware of the floor. I would switch my attention from as much as I could take in with my peripheral vision to focusing intensely on one object. I kept wanting to see something in these glass shapes as sometimes happens when looking at a cloud— you may see a rabbit or a fish, for instance—but I was never able to make any such associations with Debbie’s work.
I realized on some level I was trying to ground myself, because the fact was that I was being taken into a totally foreign place, no longer looking at an art installation, but being immersed in it. The amount of light entering the space was dropping off, but the works of glass still illuminated the space enough for our acclimated eyes to see the walls and floor. Then I looked up again and realized the ceiling was gone! I checked again from the floor up to the walls and the ceiling was not there anymore. It was as if the lid of the trailer had been removed but the glass objects were still there, floating in space. And without a ceiling to attach them, they started to move! I realize I’ve just used two exclamation points in so many sentences, but this was trippy.... I’ve been clean and sober for 37 years and I’m now looking up at floating glass shapes in a pitch-black space that begins where the walls end. It was a crisp black rectangle opening where the ceiling had been. It reminded me of a James Turrell’s “Sky Room,” except there was no physical hole in Debbie’s piece. This is where words fall short in describing the scene. Had I written about this piece the next day, I would have missed the lasting effects I’m feeling now of the time spent in Willa. I have shared my experience with several people and never quite feel like I got it right as I have that feeling again right now. Debbie shared that the ideal way to experience this work of art is to spend the time needed: whether it’s during a sunrise, sunset, or some significant part of the day, you need to allow the tracking of the sun or moon to shape your experience. It was a singular experience that has made me look at life and art in a much slower manner so as not to miss the subtle gems.
Paul O'Conner September 1, 2020
Lynne Robinson Article December 2014
Debbie Long is an artist who works with Light. You might be mistaken in thinking her medium is glass through no fault of your own; the cast glass objects she creates are in and of themselves exquisitely crafted sculptural pieces, but in actuality they are merely conduits for the light that Debbie manipulates into these otherworldly experiences that are the sum total of her work.
Debbie was Ken Price’s studio assistant for many years and that long apprenticeship has paid off in spades. Although Debbie is certainly linked to Price’s creative lineage which includes artists Larry Bell and Ron Cooper among a few others, her work defies simplistic definition, nor can it really be compared to the aforementioned artists except in terms of their exploration of light.
This is art made from dreams. Dreams, but also dedication, discipline and hard work. A poetic inner vision made crystalline and manifest. Deep water and deep space converge here in these installations with their alien yet inexplicably familiar forms that capture, refract and reflect the light Debbie bends and shapes.
Light as we know, travels in the form of a wave – white light contains every color in the visible spectrum – and with these pieces Debbie has somehow conjured a way to capture these waves as they travel faster than our eyes can see, to confine them in these fragile vessels that will contain them for as long as they remain unbroken.
Her Naima piece, a chamber of amethyst light inside a rusty old trailer, where hundreds of handmade cast glass objects collect light from the sun, transforming the interior as the fiery orb moves across the sky, was built for High Desert Test Sites 2013, an exhibition curated by David Hickey, Andrea Zittel, Libby Lumpkin and Aurora Tang, where the artist’s projects were sited in the desert along the I – 40 from Los Angeles to Albuquerque. The Naima Trailer was sited in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree.
Debbie describes her work as a slow read, an apt analogy. Whilst visiting her huge new studio last week, where Naima is installed, I sat for a while inside another light chamber she has built into the underneath of her sleeping loft. Amber light shifted and became golden, then deeper shades of tortoiseshell as I relaxed, looked up, felt washed by waves of warmth flowing inward from without – or was it the other way around? In that tight space that could have just as easily felt utterly claustrophobic, I experienced a moment of transcendence beyond color, beyond verbal description. It was as if a deep thirst had been quenched.
I came out of the little enclosed cubicle into the large, open room she works in. An assortment of amethyst glass objects were grouped on a table along one wall. They glowed with such intensity after the gentle golden light I’d just been bathed in, it was difficult to look at them for too long.
I crossed the room and stared out of a high window watching a few birds gather on the bare branches of a tree. I glanced down at the big table that serves as her desk, covered with papers, sketches, books and other bits and pieces of a meaningful life in progress and noticed a torn scrap of lined paper peeking out of a pile. I had to walk around the table to read what was written on it.
“What makes the desert beautiful,” says the little prince, “is that somewhere it hides a well.” (From The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
Lynne Robinson December 22, 2014
Harwood Museum of Art Light Ships Taos, NM (2022) Solo Exhibition
5.Gallery Santa Fe, NM (2022) Solo Exhibition
Center for Contemporary Art Santa Fe, NM (2008) Solo Exhibition
Harwood Museum of Art, Taos, NM Debbie Long: Light Ships
March 19-October 9, 2022
5.Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
August 27-Oct 8, 2022
Vivian Horan Gallery, New York, NY Taos 1960s-Present
Harwood Museum of Art, Taos, NM Harnessing Light
Chimento Contemporary, Downtown Los Angeles, CA
Naima Trailer (Light Ship)
Harwood Museum of Art, Taos NM Art for a Silent Planet
The Paseo Project Taos, NM Naima Trailer (Light Ship)
High Desert Test Sites 2013, Mojave Desert Los Angeles, CA Naima Trailer (Light Ship) Curated by Dave Hickey, Andrea Zittel, Libby Lumpkin, Aurora Tang.
Mark Moore Gallery, Project Space Los Angeles, CA Tow Package (Solo Exhibition)
Denver Center for Visual Art, Denver CO Taos Contemporary
Harwood Museum of Art, Taos, NM Curator Libby Lumpkin
LAND/ART New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM Sculpture as Analogy to Landscape, Curated by Steve Barry
222 Shelby Street Gallery, Santa Fe, NM Landscape and Memory
Gallery 128 Lower East Side, New York, NY Migrate, Curated by Sabra Moore
Boston University School of Visual Arts Sherman Gallery, Boston, MA Crossing Country, Curated by Hannah Cole
Center for Contemporary Art, Santa Fe, NM Forest (Solo Exhibition)
Site Santa Fe, Santa Fe, NM Lucky #7 Biennial, Artist Volunteer for Scott Lyall Project, Curated by Lance Fung
Nadie es Perfecto, Oaxaca City, Oaxaca Mexico Amor Sin Palabras, Curated by Ron Cooper.
Fenix Gallery, Taos, NM Tree Stump Tree Forest (Solo Exhibition)
Cinemaland Chinatown, Los Angeles, CA NM10
516 Arts, Albuquerque, NM Curated by Diane Karp
Harwood Museum of Art, Taos, NM
Center for Contemporary Art, Santa Fe, NM Morphosis, Curated by Cyndi Conn
Site Santa Fe, Parking Lot, Santa Fe, NM Renters
Art Lobby Project Space, Taos, NM Tree Forest City solo exhibition
Salon Mar Graff, Santa Fe, NM
Donkey Gallery, Albuquerque, NM Comin' Down the Mountain
College of Santa Fe, Santa Fe NM Bloc-busta
Taos Plaza Theatre, Taos, NM Bloc-busta
James Hart, Santa Fe, NM Peace Show
Art and Industry, Santa Fe, NM Match the Couch, Curated by Zane Fischer
Center for Contemporary Art, Santa Fe, NM Collect
Center for Contemporary Art, Santa Fe, NM Window Project
Van de Griff Marr Gallery Shack Obscura, Santa Fe, NM Rec Room
Center for Contemporary Art, Santa Fe, NM Painting is Dead
Fenix Gallery Taos, NM Work from Los Angeles (Solo Exhibition)
Paseo Project Community Grant, Taos, NM.
Art Studio America: Contemporary Artist Spaces
Art Studio America is a new book by Hossein Amirsadeghi and Maryam Eisler capturing intimate portraits of 115 artists in their places of work. Trans Globe Publishing.
Creative Capital Foundation Professional Development Workshop Grant, Santa Fe Art Institute, Santa Fe, NM.
Pilchuck Glass School Residency Grant, Seattle, WA.
Harwood Museum of Art Taos, NM
Larry Bell, Taos, NM
Jeffrey Soros, Los Angeles, CA
Glen Schaeffer, Las Vegas, NV
Gus Foster, Taos, NM
Ron Cooper, Taos, NM
Harnessing Light Panel Harwood Museum of Art, Taos, NM
Art for a Silent Planet Panel Harwood Museum of Art, Taos, NM
Naima Project Pecha Kucha, Taos Center for the Arts, Taos, NM
Site Santa Fe and the Center for Contemporary Arts Dialogue 360 Lecture Series, Santa Fe, NM.
Press, Reviews, Bibliography
Hyperallergic, May 15, 2022, Debbie Long Turns RVs into Vessels of Light by Molly Boyle
The Taos News, March 23, 2022, Speed of Light: Debbie Long at the Harwood Museum by Lynne Robinson
BBC Culture, London UK, October 12, 2014 American Artists Pictured in Their Studios by Rebecca Lawrence
Art Studio America Trans Globe Publishing, London, UK 2013
LAND/ART New Mexico Radius Books, Santa Fe, NM 2009
The Gus Foster Collection, Harwood Museum of Art, Taos, NM 2014
ARTslant Santa Fe, NM March 28, 2014 Art For a Silent Planet: Blaustein, Elder and Long by Lauren Tresp
Artillery Magazine, Los Angeles, CA November 20, 2013 High Desert Test Sites 2013 by Scarlet Cheng
The LA Weekly, Los Angeles, CA October 14, 2013 If You've Ever Wanted To Take a Road Trip Through the Desert by Marissa Gluck
Mutual Art, October 23, 2013 High Desert Test Sites, A Diary by Leah Weinstien
The Santa Fe Reporter, Santa Fe, NM June, 2009 Landscapism by Zane Fischer
THE Magazine, Santa Fe, NM August, 2007 Debbie Long TreeStumpTreeForest by Anthony Hassett
The Albuquerque Journal, Albuquerque, NM January 27, 2006 Strange Shapes Indeed by Tom Collins
THE Magazine Santa Fe, NM September, 2005 Bloc-busta Taos by Richard Tobin
Bloc-busta Exhibition Catalog Santa Fe, NM 2005
The Santa Fe New Mexican Santa Fe, NM October 12, 2001Rec-reating Imagination by Robert Nott
Geromino Magazine Taos, NM June, 1999 Debbie Long at Fenix by Tom Collins
THE Magazine Debbie Long at Fenix Santa Fe, NM July, 1999
New American Paintings Open Studios Press, Los Angeles, CA 1998
The Albuquerque Journal Albuquerque, NM June 15, 1997 Urbane Artists by Wesley Pulkka
The Denver Post Denver, CO August 23, 1997 New From New Mexico by Michael Paglia
THE Magazine Santa Fe, NM November, 1996 Slingshot by Christine Hemp
1994 BFA Sculpture University of New Mexico Albuquerque, NM
1993 BA French Literature University of New Mexico Albuquerque, NM
1993, 1994 Adobe Forge and Bronze Casting Foundry Albuquerque, NM
2004, 2006, 2007 Janusz Walentynowicz Glass Studio, Chicago, IL
2006-2012 Studio Assistant Ken Price Taos, NM