Local artisans are breathing new life into the art of glassblowing, and their efforts will be on display at this year’s Battle of the Glass Blowers.
Professional glass artists from Chicago, Detroit and the Southwest Michigan area will compete for cash prizes and bragging rights while showcasing their talents at Glass Art Kalamazoo. The event is free, but donations are accepted, as the event doubles as a fundraiser for the organization.
“Glass artists by nature are a unique group of people,” said Carrie Vanderbush, executive director of Glass Art Kalamazoo. “You may see teams dressed in a theme and there will be a lot of turning and twisting and a little bit of showmanship. They will be judged on style points and what kind of a show they put on.”
The action will take place in the venue’s Lampworking and Hotshop studios. About 15 artists are participating in a lampworking competition while teams of three will be working on blown-glass pieces.
In addition to the competition, Vanderbush said the artists are creating three-dimensional glass pieces based on action figures drawn by child patients at Bronson Methodist Hospital’s Children’s Center.
“The artists are pretty excited about this,” Vanderbush said. “It will be fun to see what comes out of the kids' imaginations and how the artists turn it into a 3-D piece.”
This part of the event is an outgrowth of a partnership between Glass Art and the hospital, which involves local glass artists who create Journey Beads for children with cancer. Vanderbush said each of the beads represents a particular medical procedure, which gives the kids opportunities to talk about the beads instead of the medical procedures they undergo.
Community outreach efforts such as this are among a number of ways that Glass Art Kalamazoo supports what was once considered a dying art. Under the guidance of professional artists, classes are taught there in glass blowing, lampworking, bead making and kiln fusing, alongside special events and exhibits offered throughout the year.
Joshua Davids, studio and marketing manager at Glass Art, said America has a strong history in the studio glass movement that got its legs in Toledo, Ohio.
“The time we’re in now there’s a definite interest in locally sourced and handmade,” Davids said. “Here in town and locally, glass art pieces are not widely available. The difference between handmade and manufacturing is extraordinary.”
Davids earned a graduate degree in glass art from West Texas A&M University after getting an undergraduate degree focused on print and graphic design.
“When I saw a glass studio, I got mesmerized and couldn’t keep away,” he said. “I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
Sculptures and vessels are a focus for Davids and his wife, who is also a glass artist. Color and texture are used to create tablescapes while higher-end works tend to be more experimental and focus on how the glass interacts with light, shape and form.
“There’s always that conservative contingent that says, ‘How are you going to make a living,’” Davids said. “It’s a definite craft and if you work hard at mastering it, you can kind of find your market and find your way.”
Vandenbush said she thinks the popularity of glass art has increased because people are looking for something unique to engage in.
“It’s very dynamic and exciting and you’re working with an artist, so you get to learn the different techniques and at the end of the day you have made things you can use like a glass or a vase or a plate,” Vandenbush said. “Sometimes you might paint something, but does it ever go up on a wall?”
Glass art involves working in high temperatures with varying degrees of physicality. For instance, creating a fused glass piece requires the cutting of glass that is layered one on top of the other before being fired in a kiln.
“Our artists-in-residence and studio artists say they just get used to it after awhile,” Vandenbush said. “Glass artists are constantly trying to push boundaries and trying to figure out different ways to fuse the glass. It’s fun to see peoples’ influences come out in glass. When you pick up a piece of hand-blown glass, you appreciate the process.”
Davids said glass blowers are definitely interesting people and are their own kind of community.
“We get together and share ideas and techniques. The glass community has massive resources as far as techniques,” Davids said. “The Battle is in part a way to bring artists in from different regions. It’s a friendly competition to bring artists in and make a lot of stuff for a really good cause.”
Battle of the Glass Blowers
Glass Art Kalamazoo
326 W. Kalamazoo Ave. #100, Kalamazoo