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Sugar House Journal

Glass art sparkles at Red Butte Garden show

Oct 30, 2019 15h41 ● By Jenniffer Wardell

Fusible glass can be turned into smaller jewelry as well as plates and larger wall-mounted pieces of work. These earrings were created by guild artist Mary Young. (Photo by Rachel Collings)

By Jenniffer Wardell | [email protected]

This winter, Red Butte Garden will be blooming with brightly colored glass. 

The Glass Art Guild of Utah will hold their 18th annual Glass Art Show at the Red Butte Garden Visitor Center Nov. 2 through Dec. 17. The event will feature a variety of pieces from guild members, ranging from jewelry to wall displays, created using a variety of glass techniques. With new pieces replacing the sold art all the time, the entire exhibit changes more than once during its run. 

"When we do our show at Red Butte, we end up doing two or three restocks," said Mary Young, a member of the guild. "Stuff just flies out of there."

While some members of the guild focus on stained glass and other techniques, the majority of the guild’s work involves some form of fused glass. First created by the ancient Mesopotamians and re-discovered in the 1970s, fused glass happens when specially created glass is heated together in a kiln at exactly the right temperature. 

“It has to expand and then contract at the same rate,” Young said.

After that, the artist will often smooth out the edges with a belt sander, then either keep it as a decorative piece or re-heat it in the kiln around a mold to turn it into a vessel. If something goes wrong with this process, the glass cracks. 

For many artists, including Young, those cracks don’t necessarily mean the end of the piece. Often, it will simply take the work in a new direction. 

“It doesn’t need to be perfect to inspire you and make you feel good,” she said. 

In addition to combining different colors of fusible glass, there are a lot of other techniques the artists use to decorate their work. Frit, which is a sand-like substance made of tiny pieces of glass, can provide color and texture and even be used as a form of paint. Actual glass paint can also be used, both before firing and after, as well as copper foil. There are also various techniques for shaping the glass itself, using screens, melting pots and shaping tools. 

"There's a lot of this that's either magic or the sort of science none of us are going to understand,” she said. 

Different members of the guild use different techniques. Dan Cummings, one of the guild’s full-time professional artists, mostly uses sandblasting (a form of etching) to create his pieces. Kerry Transtrum, one of the guild’s founding members, has done some pieces by creating molds and then pouring the glass in to give the piece its final shape. Young, for her part, enjoys using copper foil, mica powder paper (made up of finely ground minerals) and wrap-around designs called sepia slides. 

"If you go to someone else's studio, you'll find all different kinds of stuff," she said. 

Even the need to use fusible glass isn’t always a requirement. Jodi McRaney Rusho uses entirely recycled glass in her work, changing things like old wine bottles into vases and other decorative pieces.

"She pretty much does nothing but recycled glass," Young said. "People would say you can't make glass art out of recycled glass, but she's stubborn."

Though they have their preferred ways of working with glass, the members of the guild will often learn new techniques from each other. Though Young said it wasn’t as common in the early days of the guild, she’s seen it happen more and more often as the guild has grown. 

"Now we have 57 members of the guild, and we share an awful lot," she said. "We have regular meetings every other month, and now we have these Glass Talk meetings where we share even more."

In addition to selling their work, guild members will often teach classes on how to get started in glass art. Young said she enjoys teaching people of all ages how to get started. 

"The one thing that I need to advise people of is that it's addictive," she said. “You get started in this, you get sucked in."

The exhibit is free to the public with the price of admission to the garden and free for garden members. For more information, call 801-585-0556 or visit