|A Glassblower's Paradise|
Glass artists are a quirky bunch. Their art is a high-stakes dance with heat, color and the fragile beauty of an incredible media-one that changes, swirls, cracks, bubbles, blends and ultimately perplexes even the greatest of masters.
Perhaps it is this unpredictable waltz that keeps these glass daredevils on edge when they create-like a trapeze artist delicately balanced for a death -defying act.
"There's a fifty-fifty chance my glass bracelets will survive or break," says 32-year-old Shiloh Hunkapiller, a recent transplant to Chico from the Bay Area. "I'm literally on the edge of my seat when I make them."
Hunkapiller, who began his artistic career as a woodworker specializing in the building of bamboo fly rods, is a new breed of glass artist who works with borosilicate (more commonly called Pyrex). His style-one of "lampworking" is basically manipulating glass in the flame of a torch. While it has become more popularized in the past 50 years, the art form goes back to ancient Venetian times. The advent of Pyrex, a more "forgiving" glass, and the ever-growing glass "pipe" market, has given rise to new technologies, new colors and new equipment.
Just 10 years ago, there were a handful of colors to use if you were a 1ampworker, says Justin Berg, a 26-year-old "veteran" who started his lampworking learning curve when he was just 18. "I originally saw it being done in Venice, Italy, on the island of Moreno. When I moved to California, I met a few people who had torches. It lit a fire under me."
Today, Berg, who creates sculptural goblets to little tiny jewelry pieces, owns his own house in Chico and has a studio off of Park Avenue. "I moved to Chico because of the climate and because Orient & Flume [an internationally famous glass art studio in Chico] was located here. As an artist, it's important to have a community that supports the arts and advertises their artists. Chico seems to do that."
James Moody of Paradise is definitely a creative type. He'll tell you he's a vase maker-a ceramicist since the age of 10 who made pots in high school. His dad was a welder, so he was no stranger to the heat and sweat and the burning sensation of glass art.
"Glassblowing was just one more challenge for me," says Moody. "As an artist it is the most challenging material I've ever worked with. Everything else was fairly easy until glass."
Moody is most well known for his clear glass tumblers with colorful glass beads. Niche magazine once called them "America's No.1 Party Glass." Moody says he's made 11,000 of those glasses during his career. His current work is making its way into embassies and museums across the world.
A professional glass blower since 1996, Moody graduated from California State University, Chico, in 1989. He wasn't alone. Richard Satava of Satava Art Glass (famous for its jellyfish designs available through fine stores and museums throughout the US) and many Orient & Flume artists were trained in the Chico State glass program. It was one of the first in the CSU system in the '70s and '80s before it was suspended in 1990. The glass program was brought back in 1996 with the help of students, donations from local glass studios, and the hard work of art professor Robert Herhusky.
Satava is one of two area artists featured in the fourth edition of The 100 Best Art Towns in America. Chico not only made the top 100 cut, but also ended up in the No. 10 position. The author quotes Satava as saying, "Chico's a small community where you feel well-connected to the art world outside. Artists here can't depend on the local economy to keep them going. You have to get your work represented across the country if you're going to survive ... "
He's done well with that. Satava's work can be found is in fine museums, stores and galleries across the United States.
Located on Park Avenue in Chico, Orient & Flume was started more than 30 years ago by owner Douglas Boyd. The first year he was in business he said he was on the road 285 days of the year. Luckily, a big company spotted the talents of Boyd and convinced him to produce paperweights along the lines of Tiffany's brilliant iridescent glass.
As testament to the difficulty of creating something beautiful out of glass, Boyd admits it took two years to reproduce the iridescent effect that made Tiffany famous in the 1880s. Today, Orient & Flume is known not only for the paperweights and iridescent vases but for the multilayered clear case glass vases with high luster finishes. "It takes many years to master the skills to produce these," Boyd says.
"It takes tremendous focus," says Moody of glassblowing. "It's an issue of pride when you can actually make things that the Renaissance masters made in the 1400s and 1500s. Then it was a whole movement.
"Craftsmen had four to five generations of teaching," he continues. "There was no need for a kid to go to school to read or write. You were working at the glass factory at 10. By 18, you were a master and by 40, you were making things I can't imagine making today."