Bringing glass to life
By: Pete Stegeman, July 28, 2011
Pete Stegeman - The whelk is finished!
To a passerby glimpsing Andrew Hicks's home glass studio, tucked away in a backyard on a quiet Woods Hole side street, it might easily be mistaken for a somewhat esoteric toolshed. But if the artist is at work inside, one would notice the music issuing from a boombox, the hiss and flash of a propane-powered torch, and the orange glow of a shoplight reflecting off the multi-colored creations laid out on the table.
Hicks, 28, has been making glass art for six years, having begun learning the trade during his senior year at Salisbury University in his native Maryland. After a stint in Portland, Oregon— where he held down a corporate job while "blowing glass" on the side— he settled on the Cape three years ago, drawn by the natural beauty, the easy pace of life, and a market for art glass that is not as saturated as that of Portland.
"The modern glass studio movement is basically still in its infancy," says Hicks, who is excited to be a practitioner of an art form that is still young and advancing.
His work since coming to the Cape has often taken on a nautical theme. A popular item he sells at craft fairs and art shows is a pendant of clear glass with a delicate, many-tentacled jellyfish floating inside. Another is a life-sized, superbly crafted knobbed whelk shell, in a range of colors from emerald to rose to sky-blue.
His more utilitarian glassware, like bowls and plates, also reflects the influence of the sea. He shows me a heavy glass platter whose stunning array of blues and greens undulates in waves before forming an intricate spiral, like a whirlpool, at the center.
"There's no reason a plate can't be an artistic canvas, instead of an object just sitting there," Hicks says. "With this, I tried to mimic the turbulence of a wave on the ocean."
Larger pieces like this plate and the whelk shells require more equipment—and more heat—than Hicks' tiny backyard shop can provide. On a recent day, when the mercury was rising higher than it had all summer, I visited him at his shop at the Glass Studio on Cape Cod in Sandwich, where he has worked since arriving to the Cape.
The temperature was a sweltering 91 degrees, but after a few minutes inside the workshop where the glass furnace was running at two thousand degrees Fahrenheit, the air outside felt like a relief. However, Hicks and co-worker Billy Mayer (a ten-year veteran at the Studio) seemed largely unaffected by the scorching environment.
I watched one of the whelks begin coming to life as a molten blob of glass affixed to the end of a long, hollow metal rod. Hicks pulled the rod from the furnace's maw and blew into the end, expanding and hollowing the glass. He then dipped and rolled the red-hot bolus in glass shards of various hues, which melted into it to create streaks and whirls of color. He formed the shape of the shell from the still-soft glass with tongs and shears, working confidently in flip-flops despite the pieces of hot glass falling to the floor around him.
Owner and master craftsman Michael Magyar stopped in to check on the day's efforts. He has over three decades of experience in glass art under his belt, including years spent studying and opening his own studio in Japan before making his way to Sandwich. I asked him if his time there influences the work in the Glass Studio, and he pointed out a thick-walled iron bowl sitting angled on a table.
This "ring," brought back from Japan, is used to shape, distribute and cool the molten glass, and is rarely seen outside the Orient; craftsmen in the U.S. typically use a handled version that is employed while seated, he said.
"With this technique," said Magyar, "you're on your feet, you're using both hands, you're using gravity...it lets you work faster and with more agility."
Upstairs in the gallery, it is considerably cooler. The glass laid out on display, a mixture of greens, blues and crystal clear embedded with tiny bubbles, adds to the atmosphere. A school of blowfish gape open-mouthed at a cluster of stoppered perfume bottles; stylized shapes which unmistakeably evoke sailing vessels glide across a countertop towards a lovely set of sea-bubbled stemware.
Even on the hottest of summer days, the work of Andrew Hicks, Michael Magyar, and the others at Glass Studio On Cape Cod provides a refreshing taste of the ocean— which can be laid on the table, worn around the neck, or simply held in the hand and admired.
The Glass Studio On Cape Cod, at 470 Rte. 6A in Sandwich, is open year-round. Glassblowing can be viewed Thursday through Sunday from 10 AM to 5 PM. For more information call (508)-888-6681.
Andrew Hicks' work can be found online at andrewhicksart.com; check the website to see where and when he will be displaying his work for sale.