​Turning Art into a New Start

Elijah Kell, a 15-year-old artist from Mint Hill, turns glass into beautiful pieces of art. This year, he’s creating a special piece that will be auctioned off during The Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary’s Online Auction, to raise support for families experiencing homelessness and to help at-risk students attend college. We caught up with Elijah recently to find out a little bit more about this talented young man, what inspires him, and what drives him to use his art to make a difference.

It’s not every day that there’s someone as young as you and so accomplished. How did you get into art, and particularly, what drew you to working with glass?

I first started working with glass when I was 10 after taking art lessons with a friend of our family from church. I have always loved art, and it's been my favorite thing to do for as long as I can remember!

I always had a hard time learning in school. When I was eight, I was diagnosed with dyslexia. So, art was always my escape from my learning struggles. I was bullied because I mixed up my words and couldn't read or do math as well as my classmates. Whenever I felt bad about myself I would draw, sketch or paint and I felt a lot calmer and happier.

Once I started taking art lessons, I really loved learning the different styles and techniques of art. But, I saw lots of colorful glass and a big kiln and materials at the studio and I really wanted to learn how to create with glass. I begged my teacher for a couple of months and finally she asked my parents and they said yes! After I made my very first piece I was hooked! It was all I wanted to do.

I love creative design, building and working with my hands, so glass as an art medium gives me all of that.I see everything in pictures so it's like I have a 3D printer in my brain! I can envision what I want the end result of my art piece to be, and then I work backwards to create it. There are a lot of steps in my process and a lot of things that can go wrong along the way, but the challenge is really awesome. It's a balancing act of space and weight, precise layering, and being able to predict how the glass will react during the firing cycles. There are so many different possibilities working with glass and I love to experiment with design ideas and come up with new ways to create with it.

What is your family background? How have your parents/family supported in your endeavors?

I was born and have always lived in Charlotte (actually Mint Hill). I have one older brother and one younger brother, and my whole family has been so supportive of me and my art.My parents have always encouraged me and my brothers to find what we love doing and then work really hard at it to achieve success. When I knew I wanted to be a glass artist as more than just a hobby, my parents said they would support me, but that I would need to figure out how to sustain doing it because it's a really expensive art medium! So, I decided to start selling my art so that I could earn money to continue buying supplies and making more. I applied to art shows and festivals and even though I was nervous about doing that, I got really encouraged because people liked my work and actually bought pieces!Then I used my money from art shows to incorporate as a business and I started learning all about being both a working artist and an entrepreneur. I have learned a lot over the last five years! I'm very grateful for the successes I've had so far and for all of the support I've gotten from my family, friends and the arts community. I now attend Grace Academy which is a great learning environment for me, academically and spiritually, and the schedule allows me to spend even more time on my art.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Nature is my biggest inspiration. I love the beautiful, colorful world that God created and I research a lot of nature information and photography as a source for my design inspirations. I think the wonders of nature can teach us a lot and I like to express those ideas with my art.Other than nature, I also love to learn about iconic artists and different painting styles that I can reimagine into my 3D glass art form.

What does the future hold for Elijah Kell? Are you planning for a full-time career in art?

I definitely plan to become a full-time working artist! After high school I want to attend glass study programs like at the Penland School to learn more about other glass mediums that I don't have access to here in Charlotte (like glass casting, torch work, etc.). I've had some lessons and experiences with blown glass which I also really enjoy, so that might be another direction to explore. Mostly, I love creating art and I love being an entrepreneur, so my future plan is to have my own public studio and gallery space because I also want to help other artists find opportunities to show their work.

Tell us about the piece you created for this auction? What was your inspiration?

The piece I created for the auction is titled "Pathways" and I designed it to represent the Pathway of Hope program and families that the Salvation Army serves. The colors have special meanings that I think connect with the paths the families are on. Teal is the color of optimism and balance in life. Blue is for peace and wisdom. Green is about growth, safety and hope. Purple is for dignity and independence, and White represents new beginnings and faith. I designed this piece with all these colors together along with bright blue wavy lines that represent the actual pathways these families are following and their hopeful futures. I think it's so important to have community programs that help people who are struggling because Christ taught us to care for our neighbors and strangers.

Have you ever had any involvement with The Salvation Army before? What does it mean to you to know that money raised on your piece is going to support homeless families and providing at-risk kids with college scholarships?

Yes, actually my family started a nonprofit called Bright Blessings and we first began our programs at the Salvation Army Center of Hope when I was just a baby! I have also served there many times with my church youth group. I have grown up knowing how important it is to give back to others and how fulfilling it is to help. I’m really happy that I can use my art as a way to raise money that will help the people and families The Salvation Army serves.

Learn more about Elijah Kell by visiting his online studio. To bid on his “Pathways” piece, please register for the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary Online Auction. The auction takes place Aug. 23-30, but you can pre-register now to receive automatic updates when bidding is live.

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