Maintaining the Flame at Firehouse Glass

Downtown Vancouver business offers area's glass artists inviting space to be creative

By Ashley Swanson, Columbian features news coordinator

Published:

 

Glass in Vancouver

Glass in Vancouver

Firehouse Glass, 518 Main St., has public demonstrations each first Friday of the month from 6 to 10 p.m., and an open studio from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. every Saturday. Call 360-931-1238 or 360-695-2660 and http://firehouseglass.com

Melt Glass Art Supply, 502 Washington St., is usually open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Call 360-771-5617 and http://meltglass.com

Lessons:

Glass-blowing lessons at Firehouse are $280 for a four-hour private session of up to three students.

Lessons in the warm shop are $25 per hour, and then $20 to $35 for using the kilns. Equipment and the three studio spaces can also be rented, from $10 to $40 by the hour. Glass is not included.

Upcoming show:

North Bank Artists Gallery, 1005 Main St., will be hosting a juried glass show, "BLOWN," in August. Andy Paiko will be the juror.

The heart of Firehouse Glass is a 14-year-old furnace and 600 pounds of molten glass. Two thousand degrees of heat emanates from the furnace, keeping artists warm in the winter and boiling in the summer.

It is one of the few glass studios in the area open to the public. And like the larger glass art movement, Firehouse Glass is preparing for bigger changes.

Walking into the Vancouver National Bank Building, built in 1906 on the corner of Main and Sixth streets, visitors pass through a display space of colorful vases, paperweights and glass pipes for smoking.

Andrew Lueck, 28, is the manager of Firehouse Glass and son of owners Rebecca Seymour and Greg Lueck. It was his father's passion for glass, and need for a furnace assistant, that

sparked Andrew Lueck's initial involvement in glass when he was 8, but it's only been in the last two years that he's returned to Firehouse Glass. He realized he had changed careers when he was taking on more glass projects than construction bids.

"Glass was always my dad's thing, for a while I lost the fire for it," Lueck said.

Greg Lueck opened the studio after becoming frustrated with private furnaces. He and Rebecca are both artists and both continue their work as corporate consultants. "I don't think he'll ever retire," Andrew Lueck said; his father still comes into the studio every Sunday to pursue his passion, creating inspiring things.

The furnace and two reheating ovens rest on the original marble floors where Portland glass artist Andrew Holmberg can often be found crafting. Dipping a copper pipe into the pool of liquid glass, he removes a blob of hot glass the size and color of a mandarin orange. Constantly spinning the rod along the rails of the work bench,Holmberg fluidly pulls and twists the glass into decorative finials. Holmberg has been working at the glass studio for 11 of his 17 years in glass. His specialty is garden art, often found at festivals and local markets.

"Andrew (Holmberg) is our No. 1 renter," Lueck said. The studio's renters have helped keep the furnace lit through the recession, with a group of about 15 regular artists.

Renters also include Andy Paiko of Portland, who has been at Firehouse Glass for eight years.

"Firehouse has been a good little studio for me. All the time I've been here, despite trials and tribulations, it works out just right for me," Paiko said.

"It's a great resource. I'm surprised more people don't take advantage of it," Paiko said. His work is the other side of the coin from Andrew Holmberg's, creating decorative and sculptural forms:2-foot-tall bell jars to flutelike vases to the near impossible, a glass chair.

"Most of the sculptural items, I make to satisfy my whims," Paiko said, adding, "in the end those are the pieces that people end up wanting the most." His functioning wool spinning wheel with its pieces made entirely from glass was recently acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum,for the "40 Under 40: Craft Futures" exhibition.

When asked how long it takes for Paiko to make a piece, he responded, "Four hours and 15 years, I like to say. It takes 15 years of practicing and making work to create all the parts in four hours."

Upstairs, downstairs

While the blown glass on the main floor draws in eyes from the street, underneath is the "cold" workshop where glass can be ground, polished and etched. The bank's original vault, its heavy door painted with a Northwest landscape, holds glass pieces in storage. Upstairs with its tall windows is the "warm" room where artists can fuse, mold, kiln form and work glass with a propane torch,also known as lamp working.

Teaching is where Lueck shines, as he easily explains his movements while shaping blown glass. "I was tricked into teaching," he said. He was asked to look over the work of a hobbyist. "It just clicked. It went from a scary thing to a natural thing that's very rewarding." He's often teaching people who have blowing glass on their bucket list, while some get the taste for the hobby.

"The more you blow glass the better you'll be, it takes a lot of muscle memory," Lueck said. He sees an uptick in classes in the winter, as people seek out Firehouse to make ornaments and plates for gifts.

Bucket-list project

"For bucket-list stuff, take a class at Firehouse Glass from Andrew," recommends Sheri Spurlock, co-owner of recent transplant Melt Glass Art Supply, right around the corner from Firehouse Glass. "He's very patient, informative and intuitive, so you don't feel like a dummy," she said. "He doesn't make you feel like you're doing anything wrong." Spurlock and her family have been in the glass business for about 25 years, moving their operations to Vancouver last June.

"It's zen-like to work with (glass), you get lost in it. It's difficult to convey that in words, that's why I recommend everyone go do it once." Spurlock's business supplies artists all over the world with sheets of glass for blowing and fusion, with 99 percent of her business online. However, she's seen an increased number of walk-ins.

Glass art, for all its artistry and whimsy, is grounded in its functionality.

"The American studio glass movement is exactly 50 years old, and they're just starting to scratch the surface," Paiko said. The Northwest is often considered the mecca of glass, stretching from Eugene, Ore. to Seattle, with more glass artists here than most of the country. Tacoma artist Dale Chihuly turnedglass blowing into a viable art movement, artists say, with his large-scale sculptures. While Seattle is a major hub for innovation, the Portland-metro area has about a dozen glass studios, with a small clubhouse of artists distinct to each private and public studio.

Gorgeous pipes

The underground glass culture in the Northwest has been centered around pipemaking, Spurlock said. Artists weren't afraid to experiment with colors or techniques to create functional art that's very different from the traditional European ideals for glass.

"Those were the guys who'd make a nice vase for their moms for Mother's Day, and pipes for the rest of the year." Now those pipemakers are displaying their artistry in the medium, even if that glass is in the shape of a smoking pipe. "We call it 'functional art,' and some of it is the best I've seen in glass," Spurlock said. "People are starting to appreciate the art behind the function."

And Firehouse Glass will be apart of the ongoing change. In the fall, the old furnace will be torn apart and replaced with a new furnace shipped from Hungary. Firehouse's heart has outlasted anyone's expectations. "The record for this type of furnace is about seven years," Lueck said, "and ours has doubled that." The corrosiveness of liquid glass often cracks the containing crucible and bricks of the furnace. The new furnace also is a commitment to creating glass for another 10 years at Firehouse Glass in downtown Vancouver.