Liquid Glass/New Gallery & Studio
Dec 23, 2013
Trimming and forming glass into a loop that will be used to hang this ornament.
Story by Chris Curtis/ Photo by Paul Franz
Published in The Greenfield Recorder: Thursday, December 19, 2013
Damon Carter twirls the steel tube like a drum major, cooling and stretching the incandescent globe of semi-molten glass clinging to its end.
Steam and the smell of charred wood join the scents of hot stone, metal and glass when Carter sits to smooth the bubble with a wooden half-mold pulled from a bucket of water behind the bench.
Carter and business partner Gabriel LaFleur move in a rapid, precise choreography in the close confines of the studio. One prepares the fist-sized glass bauble then crimps and snaps it from the steel pipe and into an insulation-lined cup; the other than adds a dab of hot glass and quickly stretches and bends the rapidly cooling blob into a loop to form what is now a Christmas ornament.
Thee new glassblowing studio and gallery at the edge of downtown Turners Falls is the first shop of their own for Carter and LaFleur and wives Diana Pedrosa and TL LaFleur.
Evoke Liquid Glass has been open, sporadically, since late summer in a portion of the former Chick’s auto garage at 149 Third St., but began regular hours just this month. The shop is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through the holiday season. It will be open late into the evening today with demonstrations as part of the “It’s A Wonderful Night in Turners Falls,” a holiday event that will include roving musicians, live performances, caroling, a tree lighting with Santa, and many downtown shops staying open until 9 p.m.
In the studio late last month, the business was still finding its feet. LaFleur was back in town from New York City for a brief break from his usually full schedule of glass shows around New England, and some of the studio’s bigger equipment remained to be set up.
From the corner was the constant snap of a relay switching on and off as an electric furnace — they hadn’t had the chance to set up their gas furnace — melted the start-up studio’s raw material. Inside a ceramic crucible in the barrel-like apparatus, 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit was rendering an orange-white lava from the brightly colored scraps and shattered casualties greened from other, more-established glass studios.
LaFleur collected a dollop of molten glass from the crucible with the tube and rolled it in several of the little piles of mineral pigments laid out on a small table.
The powders melt and merge into the glass blob when its inserted into the heat of a small horizontal gas furnace, a “glory hole” in glassblowing parlance.
“When it’s hot, you’ll see shapes and colors that you’re never ever going to see again,” LaFleur comments, turning the glass in the roaring furnace.
That can be frustrating, Carter adds; things don’t always turn out the way you hope they might in glassblowing.
Carter showed a bucket of the glass scraps the two collect from area studios, the usual leftover snips and scraps of glasswork and convoluted chunks of things that really didn’t work out.
The two work in so-called “depression glass,” mixing all the colors on the wheel into a clear blue or, less frequently, a greenish hue.
Hundreds of dollars’ worth of minerals added to clear glass to create vibrant reds, yellows and greens burn away in the crucible. Only cobalt survives, usually as a deep blue toward the bottom of the crucible and a delicate, translucent hue in the upper layers.
This has been LaFleur’s main medium for years, for practical and aesthetic reasons; it keeps costs down and neither he nor Carter have any objection to working with recycled glass.
The glass isn’t pure and holds onto tiny imperfections, although less than he was led to believe when he started working with castoffs, LaFleur said. For this reason, most studios throw it out.
“They don’t want any bubbles, any imperfections. We don’t mind, because the imperfections make people love it,” Carter said.
Carter, 40, has worked for others since college, LaFleur, 37, has been in business for himself for some time but works on a “gypsy” basis.
LaFleur and Damon have both worked in glass studios around New England, Damon most recently employed in a Providence glass studio. LaFleur, of Buckland, rents work space from area glassblowers, cranks out a particular product line, then travels around New England and New York to sell his work.
The business was Carter’s idea, after he found himself between jobs when the Providence studio was evicted by its landlord. “When I was moving back to town, sort of a last-itch idea was ‘you know, it’s time I start my own studio,’ because I’d been working for other people for 25 years and I was just done,” Carter said “And the first person I thought of was Gabe.”
The two met 12 years ago working in the now defunct North River Glass in Shelburne Falls and kept in touch.
Now, they hope to stretch downtown Turners Falls a little farther up Third Street. Carter stumbled on the space while helping the former owner, stone sculptor Tim De Christopher, move out. Later, Diana Carter met the new owner. Richard Becker was opening his own new business, River Station, and agreed to rent them what was at one point the car-washing bay.
Inside, a counter divides the space into gallery and studio, allowing prospective customers to watch the organized chaos that goes into creating the delicate objects.
Glassblowing is usually a look-but-don’t-touch situation, good for a show but not necessarily something you want people wandering into; almost everything involved is very, very hot. Open studios are common but Evoke plans to add a hands-on component.
LaFleur has a background in education. Both of his parents at one time ran the Snow Farm crafts program in Williamsburg, where he was introduced to glassblowing at age 14 — as soon as he was allowed in the studio. LaFleur taught there while still in high school.
Once LaFleur has finished his glass show obligations for the year and has time to devote to the shop, he and Carter will begin offering classes, possibly with the assistance of Carter’s 12-year-old son at the junior level.
Through classes at all levels and for all ages, they hope to teach and to give a taste of the effort and expertise that goes into the vases, cups, ornaments and other glasswork lining the shelves in the small gallery at the front of the studio.
“It’s a really fun process but it’s also hard to get to the point where you can make what’s in your brain,” LaFleur said. “It’s fun to have people try it out and they can also appreciate more when you put a certain price tag on there.”
LaFleur, for instance, makes drinking glasses out of beer bottles. They’re the bread and butter of his business, popular and relatively inexpensive, but to look at them you might think they involve nothing more than sawing a bottle in half. That is not the case. In order to make a Red Stripe beer glass that can hold a full Red Stripe beer, he heats the whole bottle, stretches and compresses the rim and toughens the glass.
There’s a fair amount of science in glasswork. The pieces have to be maintained at the appropriate temperature while working and then allowed to cool slowly in a kiln, a process called annealing. As in metal work, annealing relieves the stresses in the internal structure of glass at the molecular level. In the case of steel, annealing softens. In the case of glass, the process leaves the finished product tougher. If it’s not done right, the artist could open the kiln to find pieces that are cracked and useless.
Knowing how to avoid this is one of the many areas in which years of study and practice pay off and both men are ready to put that to work in a shop of their own.
“I’m hoping this is the last time I move. I’m done chasing the glass around New York City and Boston and Providence — hopefully we make a stand out here and Turners Falls is a perfect place for that,” Carter said.
Evoke Liquid Glass Collective — the name is somewhat fluid, the planned collective having shrunk to more of a two-family business — can be found online at www.evokecollective.com, with directions, a picture gallery, an eventual schedule of classes, and other information. Hours and other updates can be found on its Facebook page.
Staff reporter Chris Curtis started at The Recorder in 2011. He covers Montague, Gill, Erving and Wendell. He can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257.
Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261 Ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.