When glass blower George Bland moved from Phoenix back to his hometown of Kalispell seven years ago, he brought a little piece of the Grand Canyon state with him.
The white rectangular furnace, called a “glory hole,” along the wall of Bland’s garage isn’t eye-catching until he opens its circular door and releases what his wife calls
“Arizona.” A blast of heat can be felt from several feet away as the 2,200-degree furnace glows orange and yellow.
With a larger furnace that runs constantly to keep about 150 pounds of glass at a temperature around 950 degrees and two glory holes, Bland’s workshop keeps the bedroom above his garage too hot to live in and his electric bill high. But, except for the beads of sweat on his brow as he works the beginnings of a glass bowl in the furnace, Bland seems undeterred by heat.
“The other day I was taking baked potatoes out of the oven, and I’m like ‘This isn’t hot at all,’” Bland said. “I’m just grabbing the 350-degree potatoes, because that doesn’t feel like anything compared to what I work with here.”
Bland, who works for an area phone company during the day, said he started with small pieces, beginner classes and bead making. “I met a guy who had his own stuff and offered him labor for time in his hot shop,” he said.
Now, with his own hot shop, Bland said a favored part of the unique art is experimenting and learning daily. The range of his talents are visible throughout the shop, everything from glass vases, bowls, and perfume holders to decorative pumpkins, hummingbird feeders and outdoor lighting pieces line the shelves and floor of his shop.
“To blow glass you need some artistic thought, but most of it is an understanding of how to treat and manipulate and shape the glass, knowing how it behaves and knowing how gravity is always tugging at the piece,” he said.
Bland said he recently gained a needed boost by attending a Pilchuck seminar. Pilchuck is an education center located near Seattle that focuses on glass, access to resources and glass-blowing artists. “They looked at what I’d been working on and one guy said, ‘Why would I buy this when I can buy the same stuff in Texas for two or three dollars?’ They gave me the push to become more professional and artistic.”
Bland now plans on expanding his ability to make unique and colorful outdoor lighting, and hopes to one day make glass-blowing “pay the bills” by opening a commercial shop in Kalispell where people can take classes, view him working and walk through a gallery of his pieces.
“That’s my goal right now, but until then I’ll just keep working and experimenting here. That’s what’s cool about glass, I’ll never stop learning.”
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