A South Whidbey artist has finally fulfilled his longtime dream of opening a showroom to display his original creations.
This past summer, glassblower John de Wit put the finishing touches on the new Cultus Bay Glass Art Gallery, a combined studio and exhibit space deep in the woods of South Whidbey. The new location shares a proximity to both Seabiscuit Bakery and Whidbey Airpark.
Since 1989, Cultus Bay Glass has operated as a working studio. Nearly eight years ago, de Wit was seeking a fresh start for his business and a commercial property near the airstrip caught his eye. Along the way he met his partner, Catherine Marshall, who assists him in glassblowing from time to time.
“For me, it’s really a very meaningful collaboration of our talents and our commitments,” she said. “We’re both makers.”
De Wit built the new studio and gallery from the ground up. In 2020, he found the furnace he wanted for the hot shop.
“We hopped on a red eye with our double masks on and flew to Cleveland, Ohio and drove it back in a U-haul truck,” Marshall said. “It’s just been step by step with this place coming alive.”
Visitors to Cultus Bay Glass Art Gallery can watch de Wit in action while also perusing the glass blown wares in the airy, light-filled gallery adorned with natural materials.
“If we’re working, the doors are always open,” de Wit said.
His glassblowing journey began over 45 years ago in Chico, California, where he attended the university. An elective class in clay got him interested in glass. One thing led to another, and he found himself working for a small studio company for the next nine years, which he credits with teaching him most of his knowledge about glass.
“It’s a material that is real seductive,” he said. “People like it, it plays with the light, it has a gem-like quality.”
In search of a more temperate climate, de Wit moved out to Washington state to be near the Pilchuck Glass School, an international hub for glass art education founded by Seattle artist Dale Chihuly. De Wit took lessons there and worked his way up to teaching. Eventually, he moved to Whidbey Island to start his own business. After becoming a well-known figure in the industry, he completed a fair amount of international travel as a visiting artist to places such as Turkey, Germany and Japan.
Even though he sells his work in another gallery where pieces are in the thousands of dollars, de Wit doesn’t consider himself to be a “highbrow” kind of artist. Many of his creations are functional, everyday objects, such as cups and bowls. Christmas tree ornaments are an especially popular item around the holidays.
Alongside these products, one can also find pieces that de Wit simply refers to as “vessels.” These are large, colorful, cylindrical objects.
“The best piece is the next one you’re going to make,” he said.
In addition, the works of some other artists and fellow Whidbey residents are scattered throughout the gallery. De Wit created the cabinets and lighting fixtures in the room out of wood; pressure-washed tree branches gathered after a windstorm dangle, suspended, from the ceiling.
With several other glass artists on the island, de Wit said it’s important to distinguish himself through his work.
“You try to be honest about your experience and what you know,” he said.
Born in Panama, de Wit grew up speaking both Spanish and Dutch. His family immigrated to the United States when he was still a young boy. This cross-cultural experience, he believes, has shaped his worldview.
“I’ve never been a person of restraint,” he said. “If there’s a reason to jump off and try something new, I’ll do it. I’ll try it. I’m not afraid, and I think that’s a really important part of creativity is to take a risk.”
South Whidbey resident Kate Haigney, a close friend of de Wit’s and Marshall’s, also works in the studio when her schedule allows. Haigney has been glassblowing for the past 14 years. She makes decanters, vases and perfume bottles.
The younger artist affectionately refers to Marshall and de Wit as “Oma and Opa,” the German term for “Grandma and Grandpa.”
“We run through ideas together,” Haigney said of de Wit. “He helps me flesh out ideas; I do the same for him. It’s a really nice working relationship that I value.”
Cultus Bay Glass Art Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, with some availability during other days of the week. It is located at 3230 Lake Leo Way in Langley. For more information, visit cultusbayglass.com.