Local glass studios shine 

For this week’s Art Capades, I decided to peer into our crystal ball and see what to cover. I looked and waited for an answer … and waited … and waited, then it hit me — glass, I’ll cover glass art. I hit up three local places that either make, sell, or teach (in some cases all three) glass art.

When I entered Gini Garcia’s studio, Garcia Art Glass, Inc., she was busy designing her latest creation. With more than 23 years of design experience under her belt, it comes as second nature to her. She earned her degree in industrial design and went on to own a graphic-design studio prior to discovering her translucent future.

Much of the work that Garcia and her team of nine do comes from commissions; they’ve received orders from Phoenix, Canada, and have also worked on pieces for Mexican dignitaries. When she set up shop in Southtown five years ago, she was the sole glassblower and worked alone for the next three years. From the get-go the response was positive: “It’s great,” she said. “It’s beyond my wildest imagination.”

Garcia traveled to Italy to study chandelier-making and the chandeliers she has produced at the shop are truly exquisite. One on display is a multi-colored, pastel-flower piece with clear swirls which provide the sculpture depth.

“I love the process `of glassblowing`, but I’m really a person of concepts,” says Garcia, who finds it amazing that she’s able to make a living selling her concepts.

Garcia allowed me to step into the workspace to see her team in action. I was wide-eyed as I witnessed the glassblowing process; there was a certain rhythm in their movements, it was nearly choreographed — check the glass, place in the furnace, check the glass again, smooth out the edges … and repeat. The salsa music playing in the background only made it seem more like a glassblowing baila.

Garcia has a tremendous amount of gratitude and praise for glassblowers Gerardo Muños Torres and Antonio De Leon, who have worked at the studio for one year as part of a cultural-exchange VISA program. The program allows her to hire glassblowers from Mexico so they can teach Garcia and her team their technique. At the end of the exchange-program, Garcia and her team will travel to Monterrey and Guadalajara to show off their work.

Torres has been in the glassblowing business for 35 years, and, as Garcia observes, he is a “master of making something from nothing.” De Leon has 45 years of glassblowing experience and
Garcia credits them both for introducing an unbelievable work ethic to her dynamic group.

Last year the studio created 9,400 pieces ranging from small, ornate rings to detailed chandeliers. Next year will present itself with more work for Garcia and her gang as they open a second store just before Christmas, located in the River Walk’s Paseo del Alamo passageway.

Larry West, owner of Dragonfire Hot Glass Studio, is a former teacher (he admits he quit, rather than retired) that now devotes his time to glass art. He even finds the time to hold down the stint as faculty member at the Southwest School of Art & Craft, where he teaches glassblowing at his studio. From his youngest students in first grade to his oldest — the late Janis Joplin’s 72-year-old best friend — West has seen them all come through his studio and is happy to introduce them to glass art.

Dragonfire has been open for seven years, and as West describes it, it has a “clubby” feel. West calls the people that frequent the studio a “big family,” and Dragonfire hosts birthday parties, corporate team meetings, and other functions. Having groups participate in glass blowing lessons allows them to experience hands-on teambuilding, says West. One group of unlikely fans that participate in teambuilding lessons are Girl Scouts; they frequent the studios so often that West has created a patch for their sash.

It’s interesting to note that when West and his wife moved to San Antonio from Ohio, he expected to find a handful of art glass studios in town. He was surprised to discover that none existed. He took matters into his own hands and created Dragonfire, which features one of the largest hot shops (glassworking studios) in South Texas.

“Anything that can be done in glass ... we can do it at this studio,” says West.

West comes across as a sincere I-don’t-care-about-the-money type. He snickers, “I suck as a business owner — my mind isn’t on the money aspect.” He’s more into it for the craft, as clichéd as it may seem. “Success, for me, is being able to show a different side of glass,” says West.

Gallery Vetro!, located in the downtown
hotel district off of North Presa and College St., is a little shop retailing more than 100 glass pieces from local, national, and European artists. The idea to open the shop was born in an attempt to salvage pieces from nearby art glass studio Glass Odyssey, which was about to go under when Sam Fore and Philip Schrank chose to buy some of the owner’s pieces and open up their own gallery. Nearly eight years later, Fore and Schrank have created a suitable downtown niche of their own.

As the name suggests, Vetro — Italian for glass — carries pieces from Italy, specifically Murano, which is known as the Glassmaker’s Paradise. But Gallery Vetro! also stocks a wide variety of work — jewelry, paperweights, razor edge pieces, chandeliers, and barware.

For more information about the above mentioned studios visit their websites: Garciaartglass.com, Dragonfirehotglass.com, and Galleryvetro.com.


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