Evan Burnette, a glass artist from Portland, has always worked with the medium.
After going on a school field trip to Southern Illinois University to witness a mobile glass-blowing unit, he was captivated.
“At however old I was in junior year — 16, 17 — I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s what I want to do,’” he said.
Burnette just purchased Local Art Glass, the only open-to-the-public glassblowing facility in Portland. He claims to be fascinated by the alchemy of glassmaking, which takes ordinary sand and turns it into things of incredible beauty and iridescence.
“I mean, it’s magical,” he said. “It’s the closest thing to real alchemy that you can imagine.”
According to OPB, Burnette and his colleagues must physically drive heavy metal rods into thousand-degree furnaces to collect glass that is hotter than lava. Temperatures in the shops often exceed 100 degrees.
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To maintain symmetry and avoid breakage, the glass must be turned at the precise moment it is formed and blown.
Burnette has said that teams of six to seven persons are common while working on major projects.
“The actual act of glass blowing is kind of like a dance,” he said. “It’s all about fluidity and grace. Things must happen on exact, certain beats, with certain hand gestures and movements.”
Burnette’s workshop creates a wide variety of glassware for sale, including holiday decorations, tableware, and even vases. They also provide studio space for rent to artists who may not have their own tools or facility.
Even while that helps Burnette support himself, he says his primary interest is in his own creative work.
“The craft and design side of production… keeps the studio running monthly. Fine art is what keeps me running,” he said. “I do everything else so I can make my own personal work.”
Glass earrings in the style of Swedish fish, sparkling chickens, and flying pickles are just a few of Burnette’s personal endeavors.
His exposure to irreverent and absurdist ideas began in his second year of graduate school when he affixed a cast of a human nose on a piece of leftover pizza.
“It was an epiphany,” he said. “I had made work like this for myself throughout my youth… but I never looked at it as something that could have a larger impact, or mean something to someone other than me.”
Burnette admitted the difficulty of marketing comedic work, explaining that the public views comedy as “light” and unworthy of serious consideration.
Even yet, he believes it has value as a kind of fine art.
“Whether you like my work or not, you can’t say it isn’t authentic,” he said. “It’s just what’s right for me, as long as it stays true to the influences.”
Burnette noted that the fragility of glass was a significant barrier to glassmakers working in both fine art and commercial design. When the improper amount of pressure or temperature causes a piece to fracture after so much time and work, it breaks his heart.
Yet there is also closure in knowing that the project’s time has come and gone.
“Sometimes the beautiful piece of artwork is going to last 25 years or forever; sometimes it’s 10 minutes,” Burnette said. “When stuff hits the floor, you swear a little bit, pick up the pipe and do it again.”
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