ESCONDIDO — The meandering walkways that have been cut into the slopes of a North County home are lined with succulents, cacti, palms and pepper trees, intermingling with numerous translucent glass art creations — almost as if they were a part of the natural surroundings themselves.
At the top of a walkway stands Garry Cohen, dressed in black, a pair of thick-rimmed glasses over his eyes. He’s welcoming visitors to Glass Ranch, his home and glass art studio in the unincorporated Escondido neighborhood of Del Dios, which borders along the north shore of Lake Hodges.
Twice a year, Cohen hosts a weekend of glass art demonstrations and also as a chance to sell his and other local artists’ works.
During the early days of glass art in San Diego, around the ‘80s and ‘90s, Cohen said there were a lot of hot shops around. Now, he said, there are only a few, including his own, where he works and gives private glass blowing lessons.
The former Palomar College ceramics instructor and glass blowing program director now starts his workdays by firing up his studio — quite literally. The furnaces he uses to melt and shape the glass there can reach upwards of 2,000 degrees.
Since the early ‘70s, when he discovered the natural character of Del Dios, Cohen said his creations are absolutely shaped by his surroundings.
“I wake up every day and I am surrounded by nature and beauty and it really does affect the creation of my art — in the form of color, form, shape — because everything is subconsciously involved in nature anyway,” Cohen said.
Working three months on, three months off, Cohen spends anywhere from four to six hours a day, four days a week creating anything from glass bowls to shot glasses.
Yet, after more than 25 years, he’s still able to find innovation in working with glass.
“When you work with glass, it is not a short term endeavor,” he said. “Even though it is a trade, to work the art glass, you need many, many years in it to get the feel for the material and the glass.
“There’s always room for innovation on that level,” he said.
For pieces in public there’s “huge, huge” room for innovation, he said, which is where he wants to turn his attentions to next.
The majority of his works have been for the gift market, manufacturing what he calls, “pretty pieces of glass,” for people’s home décor, but he’s looking to move out of that, he said.
Where he’s looking to turn to now is fine art, including sculpture and more public pieces.
With a background in crafts and a degree in ceramics it was the process that attracted Cohen to working with glass.
“It’s a very succinct process that you have to hone in to do the same thing over and over and over again — it’s very hypnotic.
“It’s a lot like meditation,” Cohen said. “You have to A, pay attention, and B, you’re in the now, completely in the now. There is no extraneous conflict, or any kind of static going on around you. The ability to focus on the glass is so intense that it puts you in a completely different state of mind.”
John Pourroy, who started in 2001 at Palomar College studying with Cohen, said that enrolling in the glass program had changed the course of his life. While Pourroy still works as Cohen’s assistant at Glass Ranch studio, he now manages his own studio, Mars Glass.
Working with Cohen, Pourroy said, has become almost a synchronized procedure.
As his assistant for several years, Pourroy said that he and Cohen can move around the dance floor (what the work area is referred to as) without much communication at all.
“There are steps that you have to go through from start to finish, and having been exposed and been around him and glass for so long, I can recognize where he’s at in the project and I know what’s coming up,” Pourroy said.
Tours of Glass Ranch are available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.