The Art of Glass: No Mean Feat
Glassblower Chris Sherwin and His Hydroelectric Furnace
Green frog, green frog, catch a little sun! The eyes of this realistic glass creation will follow you around the room.
Chris Sherwin blows glass. Art glass. It's his profession and stock in trade. He's found a great little spot that overlooks the river in Bellows Falls, VT, where he has a studio called Sherwin Art Glass. He's a soft-spoken and welcoming guy who also happens to love the beer produced by River Roost craft brewery in White River Junction. (At the mention of locally-made beer, Chris and I connected readily!) And he's expert at creating beautiful forms and objects from glowing, molten blobs in a red-hot blast furnace that's powered by a renewable source of electricity.
A pair of glass cardinals by Chris. Handsome and beautiful all at once!
Electricity, you wonder? But that must be hugely expensive to power such a beast of a furnace for a glass-blowing studio. I asked him how he pays for the electricity to run the orange glow of heat for so many hours a day. He shrugs and tells me it's included in his rent. Then, he goes on to say that his building uses hydro energy from the hydroelectric dam just down below his studio on the Connecticut River. He takes great pride in knowing the power source for his furnace is not just renewable, but is as local as local can be!
This furnace is run by hydroelectric energy from the Bellow Falls Dam. Don't get too close or you'll singe your eyebrows!
It's a 57-foot high dam that powers Chris' furnace and two smaller kilns in which he stores his glass figures while they cool. Not a bad way to run a glassblowing studio. Most other glassblowers I know use propane to fire their furnaces these days. It used to be wood, but those days are largely gone now given the amount of work it takes to keep a furnace fired with wood. As Chris wrote to me in a reply email after I visited, "it feels great and is pretty cool to be running a Glass Studio with renewable water powered electricity for a medium usually dependent [up]on fossil fuels…and I am sure happy that it worked out this way."
The green frog on a lily pad in production. Always spinning at Chris-the-master's hand.
As I look around Chris' studio, I'm amazed at the breadth and excellence of his work. He was working on a frog when I stopped by, and he welcomed me to have as close a look as I wanted. I could feel the heat emanating from the frog atop its fiery orb of molten glass that somehow remarkably hung onto the end of a metal rod against all the odds of gravity I could imagine. To me, glassblowing always was, and always will be, pure magic. It's a thrill to watch it in progress.
The way Chris bent the nose of the frog with tongs to make it look more realistic, placed little Murrini-glass-eyed-pupils and covered them with clear glass for realistic amphibian eyes, how he kept the piece moving, rotating all the while...it was a remarkable creative process to watch.
The little owl whoooo could make us all smile.
Each of Chris' pieces is unique. When you see one, better grab it if you like it, because another one exactly like it won't come along again in your lifetime. And Chris can only make so many as a one-person artist. The labor and function behind a hand-made piece of art glass make each piece as individual as a fingerprint. Chris signs each piece with a small, electric dremel tool fitted with a tip from his dentist to etch the glass with "Sherwin Art Glass" and the year it was made as his signature and finishing touch on the bottom.
At the time of this writing, you can see Chris' work in a display case in the Hartford Welcome Center on Interstate 91 southbound, at many of The League of NH Craftsmen shops, and at Long River Gallery & Gifts new space at 49 South Main Street in White River Junction, VT (next to The Hotel Coolidge). Or you can head down to see Chris's studio yourself, where he's available "by chance or by appointment."
This is the kind of hand-crafted work a person can really enjoy! Quirky, curious, whimsical, and wonderfully designed in a style Chris Sherwin has made all his own. Bravo, Chris!
And if ever you want your very own jellyfish, captured perfectly in art glass, swimming tirelessly, endlessly, into eternity, now you'll know where to look.
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