To James Kingwell and Suzanne Kindland, glass isn’t just a medium for their art — it’s their muse, their livelihood.
The couple have created hand-blown glass art together in their downtown Cannon Beach studio since the early 1990s. That was two decades after Kingwell first settled on the Oregon Coast, at a time when it was largely dotted with sleepy lumber towns.
Today, Icefire Glassworks is a landmark for many who stop in for a souvenir, or come to watch Kingwell and Kindland create their complex, fiery art through the plexiglass.
As fans of blown glass know, the colorful, labor-intensive pieces — bowls and vases, hearts and animals, ornaments and drinking glasses — are ubiquitous at studios up and down the Oregon Coast, and in fact across the seven regions of Oregon.
Just why are they so magical, for the artists and the fans?
It’s the art and science of an age-old process.
“It’s like building a Monet-like painting with colors trapped up the sidewalls,” Kingwell says of his partner Kindland’s style. “She’s building a tremendous depth with those things.” The couple always challenge themselves to make something new, he says; nowadays he likes to work with pieces that have an intentional weight imbalance. “Rather than directing the glass, I want the weight to move,” he says. “Glass is so much more graceful than I am.”
You can experience the adventure of glassblowing by learning to make your own glass ornaments, paperweights, floats and other creations in a beginning glassblowing workshop. At the Jennifer Sears Glass Art Studio in the historic Taft District of Lincoln City, you can book a session to create your own glass float, fluted bowl, votive candle holder, paperweight or heart. Lincoln City is known for its Finders Keepers event — when 3,000 handcrafted glass floats are hidden along the beaches from October through May — and Jennifer Sears Glass is one of the 2018 glass float artists. The studio and others statewide provide all safety equipment and guidance (for kids, too) as you work with the colorful molten glass to create not just a souvenir but a memory to treasure.
At Nichols Art Glass in The Dalles, you’ll have personal guidance making your glass ornament with founder Andy Nichols, who’s known for his gorgeous blown-glass figures of salmon and other nature-inspired works. Half the fun is choosing your color pallet from the rainbow assortment of tiles; half the fun is sticking your glass piece into the flaming-hot kiln.
Glassometry, just south of Hood River, offers two-hour, four-hour, eight-hour and six-week classes, plus some drop-in activities that take as little as 10 or 20 minutes. Visitors have blown pears, apples and pumpkins — resonant of the nearby Hood River Valley Fruit Loop.
In Eugene, the nonprofit Eugene Glass School offers “fusing fun” classes every Wednesday night — a chance to try your hand at blown-glass magnets, bowls, jewelry, nightlights, wall decorations or sun catchers. And here’s a lovely find: The Craft Center, in the basement of the University of Oregon’s Erb Memorial Union at the Eugene campus, offers public classes on beginning glassblowing as well as workshops on making glass hearts, glass beats, floats and ornaments and even frogs.
Here are more inspired spots around the state to check out for classes, workshops and demonstrations:
- Icefire Glassworks in Cannon Beach
- Jennifer Sears Glass Art Studio in Lincoln City
- Alder House III in Lincoln City
- Glass Confusion in Lincoln City
- Vines Art Glass in Bandon
- Hawthorne Gallery in Port Orford