Celebrating the Beauty in Functional Art

Glacier View Glass Company hopes to take intricate glass work from the shadows and into the limelight of the art scene

By Molly Priddy
Dave Rummel makes a glass geode at Glacier View Glass Co. on Aug. 18, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

COLUMBIA FALLS — Normally, a geode takes millennia to form — these hollow rocks hold inner chambers lined with crystals of various intensities and colors.

But under Dave Rummel’s skillful direction, these geological wonders can form from glass in almost no time at all, comparatively. Last week, he stood at a glass-blowing workbench at Glacier View Glass Company and started crafting a geode as part of a larger glass piece.

Rummel, a renowned glass artist now living and working out of a studio just south of East Glacier Park, was in Columbia Falls to take part in Glacier View’s Fire on the Mountain Glass Art Festival, which took place Aug. 19.

More than 25 glass artists descended on the shop to share techniques, learn from one another, and show the public how this growing artistic trend actually works with live demonstrations.

“There’s just more and more glass-blowing in Montana,” Rummel said in his preparations before the festival. “Ever since I’ve started, it’s just gotten better and better.”

Glacier View Glass Company, located at 36 Jellison Rd. across from Glacier Park International Airport, was founded in 2012 as a retail gallery for functional glass art. The function in question is usually for smoking, whether that’s tobacco or legal medical marijuana, said owner Roger Petersen.

Petersen took over the business from the previous owners, and wanted to make it into more than a head shop. The idea is to showcase the true art resulting from creative types who are also making functional objects; not all the pieces involved are pipes. Some are marbles with intricate designs, such as words, built into them, and others are jewelry pieces.

The gallery is now 1,200 square feet, with hardwood floors and handmade wood-and-glass cabinetry. To build these cabinets, Petersen used wood he was gifted from a sawmill in the Swan Valley during his 15-year career as a wildland firefighter with the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

There are also big windows looking in on the workbench area, which has been packed with artists trying to get bench time, Petersen said. Raw glass rods are also available for sale, and eventually Petersen hopes to incorporate the other equipment that glass-blowers might need, including torches.

“We want to be a start-to-finish shop,” Petersen said.

The result is a modern, clean space with a focus on color and form, without the stereotypical trappings of a head shop, such as incense. This is about the art, Petersen said.

One piece in the cases doesn’t even resemble a pipe until closer inspection; instead, all a viewer would see at first glance is an intricately designed helicopter made delicately from glass.

Petersen said the piece was an homage to his time working helicopter crews, though he didn’t make it himself. His talents sit at beginner level; he’s able to craft pendants and lopsided marbles, but nothing like Rummel and his peers create.

“They sculpt and shape the glass,” Petersen said. “They literally take a stick of glass and turn it into something beautiful.”

The Fire on the Mountain festival marks the fifth year that Glacier View Glass has held a celebration, but this was the first of this magnitude. Thirty artists, food, a water fight, and more were planned, and the crew has already started putting together ideas for next year, including adding a day to the event.

Not all of the artists involved in the festival make glass pipes, Petersen noted; last year, an artist who makes customized medical glass for the Mayo Clinic stopped by to share techniques and chat about the craft.

Rummel was looking forward to meeting up with other artists, especially after spending so much time perfecting his craft. He started at 18 and worked in casual apprenticeships to hone his skills. Now 14 years later, his work is in demand, and his geodes have become a sort of calling card of his work.

Petersen said work like Rummel’s gives his shop a unique edge, because even in places like Washington and Oregon, where recreational cannabis is legal, there aren’t places showcasing glass as art in this manner.

“There’s nothing comparable to this,” Petersen said, standing in his showroom. “And we’re not in a big city; we’re in Columbia Falls. No one has gone this direction with glass yet.”

For more information on Glacier View Glass Company, visit the company’s Facebook page or call (406) 257-4500.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.