Local glassblowing artist welcomes fellow Italian craftsman

Local glassblowing artist welcomes fellow Italian craftsman
James Stone pulls glass from a furnace at his Stone and Glass studio in Escondido. Photo by Shana Thompson

ESCONDIDO — Italy is a world away from Escondido, but the glassblowing artwork of two artists will bring these two distinct worlds together.

In more precise terms, the Italian glass blowing artist Roberto Beltrami — who hails from Murano, Italy, an island mecca for the art form — will lead a reception from 4 to 7 p.m. Aug. 31 at the Stone and Glass art studio in Escondido and daily workshops Sept. 1 to Sept. 3. Beltrami will present and sell a small sampling of his art during his time in Escondido.

In an email interview with The Coast News, Beltrami explained a bit about what goes into making a piece of glassblowing art work, as well as the effort and emotion which goes into doing so.

Husband and wife James Stone and Carol Rogers sit on a handmade glass bench with their dog Esther at their art studio in Escondido. Photo by Shana Thompson

“When you buy one of my pieces, you are not buying a simple object. You are buying hundreds of hours experimentation, failures, and tests; you are buying days, weeks, and months of both frustration and of pure joy,” Beltrami explained. “You are not buying an object, but a piece of heart, a fraction of soul, a moment of my life.”

Doing his projects, Beltrami further detailed, can take as short as a few hours to as long as several weeks. This will be his first time visiting Southern California.

Beltrami — who in the first two weeks of August taught classes at the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle — also highlighted that his work in the glassblowing sphere fits within the Italian tradition of doing that type of art.

“My work is tied to the Italian tradition in the sense that the technical difficulty of the pieces is often very high,” he said. “Most of the time, new concepts for my pieces spark from ideas related to my experiences and thoughts.”

The newest iteration of Stone and Glass has been located downtown since November 2017, with its previous studio on Escondido’s Simpson Way burned down in a fire.

James Stone, the namesake of the studio, gave The Coast News a walk-through of how glassblowing art is made during a visit to the facility and its sweltering hot furnace art studio room. Stone also explained how the collaboration with Beltrami came to be, saying that they became familiar with one another at a May glass blowing convention in Murano, though they did not actually meet during the conference.

Roberto Beltrami, from Murano, Italy, will visit Escondido’s Stone and Glass studio for a workshop. Courtesy photo

It was the first time in the centuries-old history of glass blowing art in Murano that the community allowed outsiders in to see how they produce their pieces. The art community in Murano, until recent years, had held its cards close to its chest and did not allow its artists to teach or communicate with artists in their field from abroad. In the past, divulging trade secrets was potentially punishable by the ultimate penalty: death.

“They (allowed people in) because the Italian glass blowing community is suffering and shrinking,” Stone said. “So, I’d been to Murano before ‘ been there, done that, seen it — but this was a historic event, so I went.”

Stone himself has done glass blowing art for more than 30 years, beginning his journey at Palomar College in San Marcos. He said he was lucky to have taken 16 semesters of glass blowing at Palomar because today, the school only allows students to take up to three semesters. That and other factors — such as equipment costs, lack of access to buyers, among other things — has led to attrition in the number of people doing this art form professionally today.

Photo by Shana Thompson

“Over the years, the number of people who went through the Palomar College program and have become professionals has gotten smaller and smaller and smaller,” Stone said. “And now, it’s barely a trickle.”

Unless making glass in a manufacturing setting, Stone explained, there are no two perfect matches for products made under the intense fire of the furnace. Colors, too, are much more of an art than an exact science.

“Control is an illusion and you think you’re in control, but you’re not. You can repeat some processes, but once you start adding color to glass, it’s a mystery because when you melt glass you change the chemical content of the glass,” Stone stated. “So, you have all these chemical contents in a pot and they’re cooking one day … and then you have the same pot the next day, but it’s been cooking overnight and it’s cooked off some of the chemicals … and the color changes. All we can do is look at this stuff and hope to get an indication of what we’ll get. And I can’t tell you how many times I’m surprised — and I like it that way — I make it once and I don’t have a line of stuff I make over and over and over again.”

Carol Rogers unpacks handblown glass items sent from Italy by glass blower Roberto Beltrami. Photo by Shana Thompson

Speaking of science, glass making itself is by its nature an act of chemistry, blending heat and the materials of potash, limestone and silica sand, Stone explained. He teaches glass blowing every Thursday and Saturday evening at the studio for beginners, focused on teaching people who want to experience what it’s like to make glass with a furnace but not necessarily continue doing so as a hobby going forward thereafter.

“We teach a guided experience. So what that means is we never let the students in that class handle any of the tools or equipment by themselves,” Stone told The Coast News. “It’s kind of like riding a tandem bicycle: they’re on the back seat peddling and enjoying the scenery and I’m on the front seat peddling and steering. So that way, everyone is successful and everyone walks away with an artifact of their experience.”

Some of Beltrami’s art work can also be purchased online on the website 1stdibs.com. Beltrami’s latest work can also be followed on social media on Instagram and on his company’s website, WaveMuranoGlass.com.

The Stone and Glass Studio is located in downtown Escondido at 629 West Grand Avenue. You can follow the work and events going on there on Facebook and Instagram. Gallery hours are from 11 a.m.  to 6 p.m. on Wednesday through Saturday and on the second Saturday monthly until 8 p.m. Some of the studio’s art can be purchased online at stoneandglass.com/shop.

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