The Death of Art Glass

You might be wondering what art glass is. It’s any piece of glass that’s not utilitarian. Vases, stained glass, goblets, plates, paper weights and other items that are made by hand. They’re rarely mass-produced unless you’re looking at huge glass factories like Waterford crystal (you can see more about that factory in my Ireland blog pieces). There are two categories of art glass: cold and hot. Cold glass is taking pieces that already existed and making something of them, whether that is cutting and gluing them together, sandblasting them or using as part of other art pieces. Hot glass involves slumping, blowing, lampworking or otherwise molding molten glass using a furnace (or other heat source) and a kiln.

Blown glass is expensive for several reasons. A batch of glass without impurities must be kept molten at all times. This requires running a gas furnace 24/7 at a precise temperature. If the furnace has to be shut down, the glass has to be cooled and reheated slowly and can take up to two weeks to attain the right temperature. So it’s not feasible to shut off a furnace each night. Imagine your gas bill for heating your home and then multiply it to a temperature to keep glass molten (2400°F) and you might just fathom the cost. On top of that you need another heated furnace area for working the glass, called the glory hole, and at least one annealing kiln. Without cooling the formed glass gradually it will develop stresses and break.

Beyond the heating and maintenance of molten glass, there is the expense of a studio and the equipment. As well, every color in glass must be bought and added when blowing. These colors must also be pure and compatible with the basic clear glass in the crucible. Before even blowing the glass, the costs are huge.

Then comes the training. Glass blowing is not easy. It takes years of constant work to perfect the craft. One must be able to blow several glasses of the same size, with the same thickness (and not too thick or uneven) as well as even color if you’re making a set of something. You must be able to blow items round that should be round and oval if they’re oval. You have to maintain great skill in keeping openings even, patterns working, colors mixing. Anyone fresh out of college will still need years to perfect their craft.

And then you have to hope you can sell the pieces. Seattle has a fairly vibrant art glass community, courtesy of the Pilchuck Glass School. Some of those graduates are in BC and other areas, but Canada has a problem for supporting the arts. Our population is about 34 million, which is probably similar to the population of New York or California. When you take a percentage of people who support the arts or can afford to buy it, you get much fewer people, but the cost of producing the art is still the same. Canada is at a huge disadvantage. Yet, to market art can take as much time as making the art itself.

Thus, with our slumping economy, the arts have been nosediving. Vancouver used to have quite a few hot glass studios. The hardest to maintain were the glassblowing studios because of the costs. These included Andrighetti Studio, Joe Blow, David New-Small, Robert Held, Starfish Gallery in Victoria, Molten Spirit Glass Studio in Roberts Creek, and Solart Glass Studio in West Vancouver. Jo Ludwig in Victoria does slumped and fused glass, which negates the need for furnaces and glory holes, thus greatly reducing the cost. Joel Berman in Vancouver does architectural walls and windows. There are many other studios doing architectural glass whether molded or stained glass. A few do the kiln slumping. And fewer the glass blowing.

Joanne Andrighetti stopped blowing and running her studio due to exorbitant rent increases in  a trendy area. She does lampworked glass now. Joe Blow, run by Jeff Burnette is the latest to fall into the embers of the tight economy. Both of these studios taught classes, besides renting space to other blowers. Starfish Gallery also closed a while back.

There may be a few other studios which I haven’t mentioned that are still going. Some have a prime location like the Granville Island studios that get a good chunk of tourist trade. Other studios do production line art glass and commissions for such places as Waterford crystal. But the places for one of a kind art glass are truly shrinking and it’s too bad. It’s too bad I don’t have the means to support these and other arts more. It’s too bad that Jeff has had to end a thirty-plus year career in blowing.  I’ve heard similar tales from other artists in other forms of art.

Here’s an example of what some former glass artists are doing to make ends meet.  G is slinging fish for pay and taking HD photos for fun, and M is selling sausage and painting. E is making cheese. The skill to make art takes as long as any other skill-set or doctorate. Without art we lose beauty, a resting place for the eye and mind to replenish itself and make it through the every day.

So, if you want a deal on art from two artists now struggling to make ends meet go to Joe Blow Glassworks as Jeff is selling off his glass pieces, and Eric Montgomery (a cold glass and artist) is having a sale on some of his pieces. You could end up with a unique piece of a dying or shrinking art form that has existed for thousands of years.

Contact Jeff Burnette here:http://www.joeblowglassworks.com/1.html

Contact and see Eric Montgomery’s works here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=137615&id=654211188&l=bdeb910c32

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glassblowing

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