In the hard world of glass, many artists who blow the molten material – wielding huge blobs, with much drama, from fearsome furnaces – look down on those who do stained glass or flame work, which they consider mere hobbyist endeavors.
photo by Jodi Ford
However, two teams of flame- and stained-glass artists in Western North Carolina are doing well enough to blow that bigotry back in naysayers’ faces.
In Burnsville, Deana Blanchard and Chuck Young recently saw their rose window prominently featured in the hit movie Bee Season. And out in Hendersonville, another husband-and-wife duo, Chris and Lissa Juedemann, are selling their glass marbles as fast as they can make them – and to serious national collectors .
The surprisingly young Juedemanns are the proud parents of a beautiful baby girl named Ari. They live in a modest stone cottage and keep fluffy red chickens in the backyard. Their studio is neat and well organized, stocked with minimal equipment – an unlikely grotto of rebellion, although it is precisely that.
When Chris, whose roots are in Boone, became interested in working with glass, stained was his only option: It required none of the expensive tools needed for blowing. Lissa, originally from Maine, worked her way through UNCA making truffles at the Chocolate Fetish, a store she later bought. About the rarefied delicacy of each art “there is,” she says, “a similarity in working with the chocolate and with the glass.” As luck would have it, Chris sold a large window and Lissa sold her business about the same time, and they took the plunge, giving themselves one month to earn enough money to pay their bills making glass beads to sell on eBay.
“We worked 15-hour days, seven days a week – but we discovered that it was possible to live on the money we earned doing something we loved,” says Chris.
Then a collector who’d bought a bead called up and said: “If you will put this in a marble, I’ll give you 100 bucks for it.” That phone call changed everything. Now major collectors scan eBay and the couple’s Web site to snatch up work.
The Juedemanns sell the first edition of most pieces on eBay, then move the rest of them to their own site, where they usually sell out for around $1000 each within 15 minutes. The size of an edition can vary from 5 to 35 marbles, depending on the behavior of the unpredictable murrines, the tiny threads of glass from which the images are made. The process is tricky, even after the enormously tedious work of creating the image. Things can go wrong – chemicals in one kind of glass can fail to fuse and ruin weeks of labor. Hands-on work is harder for Lissa now with the baby to care for, but she is happy to stay in the thick of the conceptualizing process.
After all, the ideas they communicate through their work are what’s most important to them. The images in the marbles are, to say the least, somewhat unexpected: We see James Dean, Louis Armstrong, Jackie Kennedy, Jack Kerouac. Along with the pop-culture icons are political figures and scenes: the Unabomber, Leonard Peltier, Gandhi, and a desert oil well. There is a marble of the Iraqi torture victim with the + and – voltage signs etched in the back. “We had to make that marble, we were so angry,” says Chris.
That marble, and the Charles Manson one, were banned from eBay.
However, a recent article about glass collectors in The Financial Times, of all places, cited the Juedemanns’ work and called Chris a “born rebel” – a major coup any way the wind (or the glass world) blows.
Out in Burnsville, working on the established end of an equally lucrative career, Deana Blanchard and Chuck Young, married for 21 years, toil together on abstract creations in mixed media. Their glass is sometimes presented on steel armatures created by Chuck in the lower level of their elaborate studio, Selena Glass and Metal.
In addition to metal-working equipment they have a booth for sand blasting and, on the main level, an office, flush with computers; a kitchen complete with espresso maker; a design niche; a well-equipped work/exhibit space; and even a sleeping loft. The studio was built on the edge of the forest just beyond their comfortable home.
In 1972, Deana was teaching English and raising three children in New Jersey when she took a class in stained glass. “It went,” she says, “from hobby, to obsession, to profession.” By the time she met Chuck ten years later, she’d established herself as a successful crafts person. Chuck, who’d earned a degree in art, was interested in returning to creative work. The couple fit. They lived and worked in Boulder for a number of years, but they say they love being in Yancey County, surrounded by a supportive crafts community.
When they went to the Fine Arts Theatre to see Bee Season – a Richard Gere vehicle about a dysfunctional family that’s also managed to become a critics’ favorite – they merely hoped to glimpse their window (titled “A Walk Through the Portal,” the work had been spotted by a prop scout at a San Francisco gallery that had purchased the piece wholesale from Chuck and Deana).
Instead, the couple was thrilled to realize that their window had been incorporated into the movie’s actual plot, and could be clearly seen three times in the film.
Some of their most interesting new works are personal altars made from multi-faceted stained and sand-blasted glass, painted and layered. The glass is mounted in front of worked copper-covered backing, allowing light to filter through. Beneath the glass is a narrow shelf where the owner of the piece is encouraged to place some meaningful object for contemplation.
High-profile members of the Southern Highland Craft Guild who, like the Juedemanns, sell through their own Web site, Deana and Chuck have a loftier lifestyle than their Henderson County counterparts. The two couples also have distinctly different ideas about the purpose of art.
But all four are doing just fine without a furnace.
[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based painter and writer. Her work can be seen next at the Meadows Museum in Shreveport, La.]
Work by Lissa and Chris Juedemann is accessible via their Web site: www.glasskitchen.com. Work by Deana Blanchard and Chuck Young is on display at the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway.