While the question, “What is art?” isn’t about to be satisfactorily resolved anytime soon, what it takes to make and be an artist is less ambiguous:
And the willingness to make a lot of mistakes.
“I am self-taught, and stubborn,” says glassmaker Gregory Jones of Pasco, who works with new and recycled glass to create bowls, plates, and platters using a technique called glass fusion.
“The technical aspects of working with glass have been a long and interesting process,” Jones adds, explaining that he began working with glass in the 1970s as physical therapy for his fingers after a hand injury. He started with stained glass, but eventually settled on fusion, which involves joining two or more glass pieces together under high (think 1100 to 1700 degrees Fahrenheit) heat, and often shaping it over a mold.
Calling the three kilns in his studio the heart of his creations, Jones spends a lot of time in the shop attached to his house, with the result that, “I don’t have to far to go to lose myself in my craft.
“I have no day job — I’m retired, and am loving the freedom to create my art.
“Art is so much better than a real job.”
Vintage Wavy and Coral Glass Bowls
Using both new and recycled glass, Jones creates artistic, yet functional wavy glass bowls with a vintage yet modern feel, as well as coral bowls, which look like what they sound like: coral reefs from the sea.
“Nothing inspires me more than the beautiful ocean — with all of that life under the seas, on the beaches.
“Coral bowls are proving to be a great challenge and very labor intensive, taking a number of days to make a single piece. I have been inspired to make these by my diving and exploring the Pacific Ocean from Southern California to beautiful Hawaii.”
It’s a process indeed, requiring the laying of glass strips one over another, firing the shape at a temperature far higher than what’s needed to bake a cake, and then annealing — or allowing the hot glass to cool slowly to strengthen the final piece. Then the artist can add more strips and fire again, followed by another annealing. In the final firing, the artist sets the shape over the bowl-shaped mold, often made of stainless steel to withstand the heat, and fires it all up again.
Of course, writing it out in one paragraph grossly simplifies the matter, and a series of sentences does not begin to describe the potential for the unexpected, which happens so much with creative glass making, experimentation, and the continual learning curve that it’s . . . almost expected.
Experimenting with Glass
“It has taken a lot of trial and error to get the pieces I like, and a lot of errors have ended up in the landfills,” Jones says.
“I’ve never been to a workshop — I’ve always been self taught. Maybe that’s why there have been so many errors, but there are also many beautiful and unique pieces which make a lot of people smile.”
For Jones, making people smile is as important as creating the artwork itself, and whether he sells his work or gives it away, success lies in the reaction of the person seeing, and holding, his art. For years, Jones has been creating and gifting the Jewish Star of David to synagogues throughout the Pacific Northwest, out of deep respect for what the symbol means in his family heritage.
“A lot of times I make things just for the love of making a piece and seeing the smile and joy on a person’s face.”
The Challenges of Recycled Glass
When it comes to using recycled, vintage glass — which is increasingly difficult to find — Jones looks for old windows in old buildings, explaining that the bubbles, waves, and imperfections inherent to vintage windows translates into fun and exciting patterns in the final piece. Several contractors in the region keep him in mind when they are dismantling structures, and Jones is constantly up to the challenge of working with a material that is eminently unpredictable.
“After several years and lots of effort, I have developed a workable process that has been very rewarding.”
It goes back to that determination, curiosity, and willingness to make a lot of mistakes. The result — beautiful artwork and the beautiful people who are drawn to it, is a winning combination indeed.
“My art is a unique way to meet so many people,” Jones says. “There is no boundary as to the type of people you can visit with, and hear the great stories of their lives.
“I think that might be the best part: the people you meet and interact with, and who knows? You may have a new friend.”
Whatever the definition of art, that sounds like an important component.
Gregory Jones is the featured Art Event artist at Wenaha Gallery from Monday, February 26, 2018, through Saturday, Saturday, March 24, 2018. He will be at the the gallery Saturday, March 3, showing his glasswork and chatting with visitors from 1 to 4 p.m. Joining him that day will be artist, writer, and historian Nona Hengen of Spangle, WA, who will be speaking on the Native American/U.S. Government wars at 1:30 and 3, and watercolor artist and musician Roy Anderson of Walla Walla, who will play live music in between Hengen’s talks.
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.