Whidbey Island is a mecca for glass artists, which is not only great for the artists but also allows locals to enjoy pieces of unusually high caliber, according to glass artist Gina Michel.
A recently formed group of these artists who utilize a unique technique are hoping to share their craft and their work in the group’s first show. The Whidbey Island Glass Guild will show about 70 pieces of fused glass art 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, July 5, at Zech Hall and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, July 6.
“It’s an opportunity to see stuff in one place that — other than at the Museum of Glass — you wouldn’t get the chance to see,” Michel said.
Freeland resident Richard La Londe teaches the method on the island and helped bring together the 23 members of the guild.
La Londe has been involved since the early days of fusing and is considered one of the pioneers in the field. He was one of the first instructors at Bullseye Glass Company, which was one of the country’s main suppliers to glass artists at the time.
He and the guild have been meeting every two months for about a year to do projects, demonstrations and discussions.
“We decided we wanted to commune with other people that do what we do,” said member Morgan Bell. “There are a lot of glass blowers, but fusers are so rare.”
The process of combining different colors of glass, fusing it flat and then putting it into a mold might seem simple, but the fusers themselves will tell you it’s anything but.
“It’s part art, part chemistry,” Bell said.
The glass used must be compatible with each other, or putting it in the kiln could be disastrous. The different pieces expand and contract at different rates, and it’s necessary to have an idea of what that is to be able to control how it will look.
Most fusers use computerized kilns that can be programmed to account for the many factors that can affect the final product.
Most pieces require three to four firings, each of which can take 24 hours or more to complete. And even for the most experienced fusers, unexpected results are always a possibility — sometimes the glass or the kiln seem to have their own plan, the artists said.
But that’s part of the charm, Bell said.
The show will feature a diverse array of items such as jewelry, bowls, sugar skulls, sculptures and mixed forms. Michel incorporated fused glass into stained glass pieces. Member Karen Renz mounted a glass rattle on a wooden handle that swivels on a metal stand. La Londe’s colorful pieces come in unique shapes from his hand-made molds.
The artists will be present at the show, ready and willing to answer questions about the craft. The pieces will be available for sale or just to look at, La Londe said. Anyone who’s interested in joining the guild will also be able to sign up to receive more information.
“Individuality and creativity can be expressed all using the same technique,” Bell said. “It’s a really fun expression of art work.”