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Creating art from hot glass

December 24, 2004|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

DRY RUN, PA. - In a small blue workshop in the midst of farm fields in northern Franklin County, Pa., two artists work over propane torches, creating exquisite glass jewelry, sculptures, wineglasses and Christmas ornaments.

Surrounded by Bob Marley posters, a wood burning stove, two dogs and a dart board, Kevin Beecher and Nathan Deavers make the complicated art of glass blowing appear effortless. Several fans run constantly to exhaust fumes.

Beecher, who lives beside the workshop, and Deavers, of Williamsport, are business partners in Higher Mountain Glass. Their work is sold in galleries in Gettysburg, Pittsburgh and Chambersburg in Pennsylvania. They also take custom orders.

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Beecher, 28, grew up in Fayetteville, Pa., and after graduating from Chambersburg Area Senior High School, he went to California to "hang out with friends," he said. "I saw some guys blowing glass, and I apprenticed with them."

He moved back to Pennsylvania because "there were 35 or 40 glass blowers in that town (in California). I figured I could make a living at if I came back here," where there isn't as much competition.

He's been creating art from glass for seven years, concentrating on goblets, sculptures and other large pieces. He said he can make three sets of wineglasses in a day "if I'm lucky." A sculpture can take two days.

Wineglasses begin as a 5-foot tube of Pyrex rolled, stretched and shaped in the flame. Beecher said he gets 10 to 18 glasses from a tube.

"It's hard to get the wineglasses to match perfectly," he said, "because everything is done free-hand." He charges $100 to $130 for a set of two.

Beecher said it took him two years to learn to make a wineglass. "Most of those are mistakes," he said, gesturing to several slightly crooked glasses at the side of his workbench. Mistakes don't go to waste, though. "I'll stretch them out and make some odd creatures or bizarre sculptures. I sell a lot more of those than I do sets of glasses," he said.

A wineglass with a name and decoration inside a glass bubble on its stem came into being between Beecher's bare hands and the flame. He created the top and bottom pieces separately, then held each with metal tools and melted them together.

Deavers, 26, creates perfume bottles and one-of-a-kind jewelry with semi-precious stones and glass pendants. Both men make thin, decorated glass balls for Christmas ornaments.

Jennifer Davis, co-owner of Chambersburg's Thomas June Artisan Gallery, which carries Higher Mountain Glass creations, said that Deavers' unique jewelry sells very well. "It touches people; he puts so much of himself into his work."

Customers "ooh and aah over Kevin's goblets," she added. "And his Christmas ornaments sell like hot cakes. It's hard to keep them in stock."

The young men met when Beecher had been blowing glass for six months.

Deavers served as an apprentice with Beecher for three years. Learning the art is a lengthy process, they said. Most apprentices start with glass beads, then study procedures to create cups and other hollow items.

Beecher learned much about the art from high school classmate Mike Fisher, who studied with Italian glassblower Cesare Toffolo, he said.

"Toffolo blows every glass maker in the world out of the water when it comes to making glasses," Beecher said.

Ornaments are practice for making wineglasses, Deavers said, after blowing a fine, thin glass ball. "Each is individual and unique. We don't do 30 of one item."

The men attend international flame-working conferences, which Deavers credits for helping them to develop from "a couple of guys making things to people making a living in the art world. You get ideas from people who have been doing this for 10 or 20 years. Everyone shares what they have and everyone gets better."

"We get to play with fire and make things out of glass," Beecher added. "You can't get much better than that." He said he eventually wants to open a school to train other glass blowers.

Deavers is working on placing his jewelry in galleries in Baltimore and Ellicott City, Md. "We hope to be in galleries all over the East Coast by the time we're 35," he said.

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