Earth, Wind & Fire


‘Glass working is like a choreographed dance’

 Reprinted from The Western Front.

Photo by Chris Fuller /TheWestern FrontBrian Kerklviet’s glasswork is displayed at his gallery and studio at Gossamer Glass Studio in Bellingham

By Alashia Freimuth The Western Front April 18, 2001

Dozens of intricate, multi-colored glass sculptures light up the white walls of Gossamer Glass Studio. Glass worker Brian Kerklviet makes everything from small beads, goblets, plates and bowls to elaborate urns, vases and custom chandeliers. “Glass has so many facets to explore,” he said. “Translucency, colors, forms and so much more, which makes it more fascinating and spontaneous.” Kerklviet has worked with ceramics, metals and wood, but said he prefers glass. “Glass has different focuses,” he said. “You can dance around and make a little of everything. It is exciting.”

To Kerklviet, glass working is like “a choreographed dance and everyone has steps.” When working, he usually has at least a couple of assistants “Glass is very technical and not very forgiving,” Kerklviet said. “The timing has to be right. A mistake can’t be fixed.”

Kerklviet uses furnace and flame working when making his pieces. Several types of glass are used for furnace work. Kerklviet gathers from a furnace molten glass on the end of a blowpipe to give it form. It is cooked overnight in a furnace at 2,400 degrees. Temperatures of Kerklviet’s furnaces and kilns are controlled by a computer. They have to be replaced every four to five years, since severe temperatures can damage the inside of the machinery.

Flame working entails using a torch to blow and shape tubes and rods of glass. It is used for making beads and marbles. Pyrex is primarily used for goblets and sculptures. In the July 1994 issue of Glass Art Magazine, Kerklviet said he initially found his glass here at Western from a chemistry stockroom and a scrap pile. He reworked test tubes into marketable items.

At age 13, Kerklviet enrolled in an apprenticeship program at Hellebore Glass Studio on Whidbey Island. Intending to study for one semester, Kerklviet stayed for five years before attending Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood. Kerklviet opened Gossamer Glass in 1984, and the business has expanded ever since. Many pieces of his work are displayed at his studio. “I really love working in this environment and being surrounded by such beautiful art,” office manager Erin Kennedy said.

While at Pilchuck, Kerkvliet met many glass workers from around the world and established connections with them. Since then, he has been invited to instruct at workshops and display his art in galleries throughout the world. He has traveled to Australia, New Zealand, Italy and Germany to teach workshops and show his work. His art is currently displayed in more than 80 galleries and museums throughout the world. “I didn’t send out slides or anything, but it took about 10 years before anything happened,” Kerklviet said.

In 1999, Italian Prima Maestro Elio Quarisa contacted Kerklviet. Quarisa was extremely interested in his work. Kerklviet hosted him at his Bellingham home for nearly three weeks. Together, they conducted workshops and had an exhibition in Seattle to show their work. Quarisa received the title “Prima Maestro” for being in the top position of his work in Italy. “There are few with his skill level,” Kerklviet said. “It was quite an honor.”

Every February, Kerklviet attends the American Craft Council in Baltimore to display his work. Galleries, buyers and collectors from around the world purchase and place orders. Pricing this type of art is not easy. Kerkvliet’s beads have sold from $5 to $500. Vases and urns are priced from $1,000 to $4,000. His most lucrative sale was a $25,000 chandelier for the Aladdin Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Pricing is usually based on production and choice of material, but mostly on how well similar pieces are selling and the pieces’reputation. Kerklviet said he is not struggling, but his is not the business to get into if one wants to get rich quickly . “I have the glass bug,” he said. “I just want to do it all the time.”

Kerklviet does conduct workshops on a variety of glass working techniques and writes a column in Glass Art Magazine. The chemicals in the glass cause the flame to glow orange instead of its usual blue-white.

© 2001 The Western Front

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