BIGFORK – Outside you can see your breath. It’s among the coldest, shortest, days of the year. But inside is the sun.
“I used to think metal working was hot,” says artist Lee Proctor, “until I started blowing glass.”
“Where the Sun Lives” is written above the door in Proctor’s Bigfork shop. The door opens to a 300-pound tank called the crucible. In it is molten glass, heated to 2,100 degrees for blowing, and 2,380 degrees for casting glass.
Lee Proctor began working with metal in the 1970s, and picked up the glass habit about four years ago.
“What I’m trying to do is mix the two,” he says. “How can you add glass to metal?”
Today he is piecing together a metal railing with glass accents for a house he built 20 years ago. Proctor remembers it as the “Whale House.” With that in mind, Proctor adds cast-green glass between central rails.
“Blowing glass, you’re working with form,” Proctor says. “If you can’t blow it, you can probably cast it.”
For the eye shapes on the railing, Proctor presses a mold into sand, creating an indent. He then lays the metal rails he’s already forged and cooled down around the shape and ladles in the liquid glass.
“The glass is so malleable and workable,” Proctor says. “Anything you can think of, you can probably make it.”
Proctor speaks with a soft southern accent. He moves quickly around his shop talking about technique and his recent projects. One side of the shop is devoted to metal; two sizes of pneumatic forging hammers, Big Bull and Little Bull (so named because of their resemblance to thick-necked bulls,) the forge, and an anvil. Up against the wall, there are several pieces of his glasswork on a metal shelf. Wall sconces sit next to vases and a picture of a nebula – inspiration for his next project. Proctor generally works alone with metal, but he has assembled a team to do the glasswork.
Nat Adorreti started working on glass with Proctor three years ago. Beau Beaudette started at the shop doing metal work, and just started helping out on the glass side.
“If you’re forging a piece of metal,” he says, “you can set it down and talk about it. With glass, you’ve got to keep your focus.”
Proctor generally works on commission. His pieces have varied from light stands to gates to sculptures. Recently, he’s focused on lighting – using his glass pieces for wall sconces and globes. One of his public displays is of several animal-themed gates placed throughout the Bibler Gardens. Proctor’s passion is fusing the glasswork with the metal backgrounds. A new project he’s designing is a metal gate with a nebulous-like glass eye as the centerpiece.
“What keeps this interesting,” says Proctor, “is you do it once, and you don’t do it again.”
Each project is different, and he and his staff are continuing to learn and experiment.
At the entrance to Proctor’s shop sits a sculpted stack of yellow-orange glass orbs. Proctor calls it his sun totem. It was installed during a July heat wave. Now, in the single digits, it pokes out above the snow, catching whatever sun peaks through the winter skies.
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