Studio Tour: Glass Waves a Flag in Clay Country

Susan Clayton alerts us to an opportunity to warm up: glassmakers are opening their hot shops this weekend. Get out and see the colors.

1Work by Chris and Stacey Kelly
2Work by Dick Huss
3Work by Fred Kaemmer
4Work by Malcolm Potek
5Work by Robinson Scott

In Minnesota, we never like to think of ourselves as fly-over country, but, in terms of hot markets for studio art glass, we kind of are. Vital communities of glass artists and collectors thrive on both coasts while here in Minnesota clay is the thing. However, there is a group of local glass artists who are out to change that. This weekend, for the third consecutive year, they will simultaneously open their hotshops to the public in order to promote understanding of the art form.

From noon to 5 P.M. on Saturday, October 14 and Sunday, October 15, 19 studios – featuring 27 artists – will be open throughout the metro area. Blown, kiln-formed, fused and lampworked glass pieces, sculptural and functional, will be offered for sale while most artists will be performing demonstrations of glass process. In the event that the glass bug bites, information will be available on classes and instruction at many of the studios.

The annual tour has evolved from the musings of veteran glass artist Andrew Shea, who expressed a desire to celebrate the growing community of local talent. Many accomplished glass artists live among us, bringing experience gained in places such as Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle, North Carolina’s Penland School of Crafts, Haystack Mountain School in Maine, Rhode Island School of Design and New York’s Corning Museum of Glass School. (Locally, Anoka-Ramsey Community College and the University of Wisconsin-River Falls are the only formal glass programs available at present.) The climate here is ideal for glass, says Stacy Kelly, who, along with her husband Christopher Kelly, serves as a wrangler for the tour. Cooling a studio in Minnesota is no problem, Stacy illumines. During the winter height of glass season, artists simply open a door.

Based on an extensive search, the event is billed as “the only glass tour in the U.S.” That this is true is somewhat remarkable. On any given weekend, from spring through fall, there is an art fair, studio tour or crawl happening within, or within driving distance of, the Twin Cities. Clay, a familiar, accessible medium known to us from Play Dough days and school art curriculums, is prominently featured at such venues. In the wake of clay champion Warren MacKenzie and those who came along with and after him, Minnesota is famous for pottery.

Glass, on the other hand, is somewhat mysterious. Works often provoke a “how’d they do that?” response. Artists who choose this highly specialized art form will tell you it’s about fluidity – understanding glass in terms of the liquid that it is. There is excitement involved in the transformative
fire – many glass artists admit to a touch of pyro.

Blown glass is particularly challenging. Requiring long lasting, extreme heat, it is an expensive process, at times prohibitively so, especially in light of fuel costs in the last few years. It’s physically demanding. The artist works with and against gravity, ever mindful of timing, creating a ritual that is often compared to dance.

Glass merges color and light like no other medium. It is most fully appreciated by living with it, experiencing how it reacts to and changes in light. Glass possesses a unique luster and offers the possibilities of reflection and cast light, depending on its placement.

It is difficult to define a “scene” attached to the local glass community. Minnesota’s glass artists spend most of the year focused on their individual studios, refining their process, exploring new ideas and building markets. The annual tour, according to Stacy Kelly, is “our time to come together and acknowledge each other.”

Included on the tour:

  • Dick Huss, consistently busy with commissions and custom installations at his St. Paul studio, is the area’s best known glass master.
  • Also located in St. Paul, Fred Kaemmer creates fresh, immaculate work. (He literally sticks a fork in some pieces when they are “done.”) His light and spacious studio downtown is a treat. Plan to enjoy the nearby St. Paul Art Crawl, scheduled concurrently.
  • In Minneapolis, Christopher and Stacy Kelly have made the most of their Northeast lot by building a studio behind their home. The pair work together to produce marvelously embellished forms.
  • Andrew Shea is especially known for his faceted perfume bottles. He hosts fellow glass blower Eric Sommers and jewelry artist Kait Schott in South Minneapolis.
  • To combine glass touring with the last of the fall color, head north to the Becker brothers: Doug in Bethel and Joe in East Bethel. Also located in the vicinity are Greg Heihn, Robinson Scott, and Stephen Hodder.