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Take the Virtual Tour of Inspiration Farm

The Air of Inspiration

by Jessa James

"In a world where competition often replaces passion, it is refreshing to find a place where differences are collaborated, on the behalf of the students, in order to further creativity and imagination."

A glassblowing studio, a jewelry company, an art gallery, an organic farm, a green house, a beautiful garden, a guest cabin, a pond, a house, and a family. It's any artists wonderland all rolled into nine acres of land called Inspiration Farm.

Located 10 miles from downtown Bellingham, Washington, Inspiration Farm is owned and creatively controlled by husband-and-wife team, Brian Kerkvliet and Alexandra King.

A couple of years ago the local community arts center, with which Kerkvliet was heavily involved, got voted down in a confusing off-year primary referendum. Although Kerkvliet had already been toying with the idea of founding a school, when he and King saw the old homestead on Laurel road for sale, they realized that in their hands the dream of having a studio and teaching center could become a reality. The old house, large orchard, bed of perennials, and five out buildings made this an ideal location. Since those early days, the budding idea of Inspiration Farm has begun to bloom.

From the road, the property looks to hold, at most, some land with a house and garage. Looking back to my first days experience on the farm, I can remember my surprise as I passed by the house, and entered the first building on my left. As I stepped inside the door, my eyes grew large and my mouth dropped open. An entire jewelry making company existed within this one building.

Since that time, I have had the opportunity to witness this same reaction from other guests who visit the farm. More often than not, an explosion of questions follows the initial shock. There are several operations housed at the farm. Gossamer Glass, founded by Kerkvliet in 1983, Cassia Trading Company, a wholesale jewelry company, created in 1989 by King, and the most recent addition on the property is a group called Community Farm, who started cultivating organic produce this year.

Cassia Trading Company designs all of its jewelry on the farm which is then hand crafted by silversmiths in Bali, Indonesia. Kerkvliet's fused glass pieces cased in silver are a unique and exciting addition to the various natural gemstones incorporated in this work. Cassia participates in a few jewelry and gem shows throughout the year, and also offers a free color catalog filled with jewelry creations. Once welcomed into the "farm family", my familiarity with its premises truly began. Walking about, everywhere I turned brought a new surprise. I realized that a second larger building existed behind the first, this one housing Gossamer Glass Studios.

Within this building exists a wide variety of equipment and pieces to delight the eye of every glass worker and admirer. Two-thirds of the 2500-square-foot studio is devoted to furnace work. The remainder houses the main lampworking, coldworking and electroforming studio. On the furnace side stands two main furnaces containing multiple pots of molten color, two gloryholes and a wide variety of specially designed kilns and annealers that allow Kerkvliet to work in unconventional ways not normally possible in a standard hot shop. The flameworking area includes several work stations specifically designed for the type of glass most commonly worked there -- Moretti, Pyrex, etc. The windows on each side look westward at fields and in the distance, Mount Baker, an active reminder that Inspiration Farm lies on the volcanic "Ring of Fire".

The layout and equipment of this building allows Kerkvliet to conveniently transform the space from his private business studio into a comfortable, well equipped class room setting. The artist instructor has taught classes in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as in the U.S. at crafts schools like Penland and Pilchuck. Down-home on the farm is where he'd rather be, surrounded by trees, fresh air, friends, family, and a new 16-month-old daughter Marisa. For the past two and a half years, a wide range of classes have been offered at the farm, usually during the Spring and Fall seasons. Classes range from "beginner" to "advanced", covering the basics of safety, shop set-up, and supplies as well as the many techniques used when working with soft glass. More advanced students are offered the opportunity to explore coloring borosilicate with oxides, encasing lampworked sculptures in clear, and learning ways to manipulate and add special canework and murrine's to your glass art. From the two-day intensive, to the week-long camp, the classes have been a huge success. Beads, goblets, marbles, murrine's, perfume bottles, vases, and a vast assortment of other dream creations have risen from the flames. Much of this success can be attributed to Kerkvliet's style of teaching. He puts his heart into everything he does, and pays close attention to the needs of each student.

In a world where competition often replaces passion, it is refreshing to find a place where differences are collaborated, on the behalf of the students, in order to further creativity and imagination. Kerkvliet has also assembled a collection of world-class guest instructors such as Patricia Frantz, Bandhu Dunham, Tom Holland, Patricia Sage, Ed Schmid, Elena Enos, Loren Stump, Kevin 0 Grady and others. And if you need a break from classes, you can walk between the raspberry bushes and an assortment of flowers or one-and-a-quarter acres of 100 percent organically grown vegetables. Added just this year, the garden is simply another piece of the pie that makes Inspiration Farm so uniquely special. Not only is the freshly harvested produce sold at the Bellingham Farmer' s Market, but it is also well-appreciated in the lunches pro vided during the productive, and at times exhausting, days of glass working class. The farm's very own gourmet, Leslie Switendick, creates dishes so delicious, that an "Inspiration Farm Cookbook" may very well be on its way.

Lunches for the classes made by Leslie (center).

A hungry instructor, Bandhu Dunham (right).

One final building adds to the glory of the farm. Walk along another gravel path, through lilac bushes, a few ham mock-holding trees, a wooden swing, and more flowers, and you will find an art gallery! Available now for viewing on an appointment only basis, the gallery holds a variety of Kerkvliet's work. Marbles and beads of various swirling colors are set about for viewing. Vases with ocean filled scenes, and pieces from the "Cosmic Kid" series, line the glass shelving along with exquisite goblets, bowls, candy dishes, and glass art sculptures from the hand of past resident artists Ed Schmit and Elena Enos. An assortment of jewelry from the Cassia collection adds finishing touches to the gallery. The tour may end here, but the dream does not. Visions of what the farm will eventually become are constantly dancing in the heads of Kerkvliet and King. As of now, Kerkvliet and his assistant, Jon Sternberg, are gearing up for a production line of goblets, vases, tumblers and the like, that will start the beginning of next year. Plans for the reconstruction and expansion of the gallery and its hours of availability are also in the works. Kerkvliet plans to extend his idea of artists working in collaboration. He looks to the future for a time to come together with others to share and explore ideas, processes and techniques in the hopes of creating an entirely new and unique body of work. From art glass, to stained glass, to ceramics, to jewelry and more, it seems Inspiration Farm is open to all kinds of possibilities. Each and every member has the opportunity to add his/her own style and personality to the learning pool. I sit here, now, slowly rocking on the wooden swing that faces out into the fields, take in my surroundings and realize this is only the beginning. I take a deep breath and the fresh, sweet air of the country fills my lungs, and I envision each dream becoming a reality, and each goal being met. It's beautiful here. Truly amazing. I watch the farmers dipping into the earth. I listen to the chickens cooing nearby. I feel the cool breeze on my skin and in my hair, and I smell the flowers that bloom all around. I realize that each morning as I step onto the farm, I automatically feel at peace. I feel at peace with myself and those around me. This makes me think back to a conversation I had with some students here, and I understand how contagious that feeling is and the importance of surroundings when creating art. Feeling at peace with yourself, and those around you, is such a crucial part of finding the best that lies within you. The creative process is de pendent on feeling comfortable enough to try new things without fear of disaster and disappointment. And I understand that the reason why Inspiration Farm is destined to succeed is because it provides others with that comfort -- possibly the most important component of the life that breathes here. We have grown to realize that with trial comes error, and therefore with error comes achievement. Perhaps it is that air of achievement that surrounds the farm. Perhaps it is the air of family, or the air of comfort. But it is surely the air of inspiration.

For more information on the programs offered at Inspiration Farm, or to get on the mailing list for upcoming classes please feel free to contact them by filling out the feedback form.

Written by Jessa James,

Reprinted from Glass Art • September/October 1997

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