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Tribute to Art Glass

Chautauqua to present
‘Fire in the Hole’ event

Indy glass artist Kenyon
to operate his glass art furnace

By Tess Worrell
Contributing Writer

(September 2012) – As patrons stroll the streets of Madison’s Chautauqua Festival of Art taking in the pottery, paintings and jewelry, they may wonder how these artisans create such beautiful pieces of art.
How does a painter take a canvas, a few tubes of color, and a brush and bring to vivid reality wildflowers growing on a sunny hillside? How does a potter turn a lump of sodden, gray clay into a breathtaking vase? Too often the layers of skill involved escape the layperson even if the artist has time to explain their work.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of studio glass, the organizers of Chautauqua decided to give patrons an inside look at the complexity and beauty behind the art of blown glass.

Matt Kenyon

Photo provided

Matt Kenyon demonstrates
how he creates glass artwork.

As part of Chautauqua, Matt Kenyon, 36, studio glass artist and Department Head of the Glass Studio at the Indianapolis Art Center, will offer free demonstrations of the art of glass blowing in the special program entitled “Fire in the Hole.” This will take place all day Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 29-30. Kenyon will set up his traveling furnace in the parking lot of the Lanier-Madison Visitors Center at 601 W. First St. Through these demonstrations he will introduce visitors to the entire process of blowing glass – from the early stages of melting solid cubes of glass into a moldable form to the final stages of shaping molten glass into the desired design.
Seth Bickis, a member of the Chautauqua Committee, says that the organizers wanted the festival to celebrate the 50th anniversary in a variety of ways. “All the awards for the festival were made of glass. We took part in a calendar that showcases glass. Also a video will play in the Visitor’s Center throughout the weekend giving the history of studio glass.”
Bickis said he hopes these different elements bring a special focus on glass throughout the festival. He notes that he will also be demonstrating blown glass on Vine Street. As opposed to Kenyon’s working with glass heated in a furnace, Bickis heats a different kind of glass – pyrex – with a torch to make wearable art such as pendants and compression pieces. These pieces have a flower formed inside. Bickis said he hopes the complementary demonstrations give attendees a more complete view of the range of techniques.
Kenyon’s early training focused on woodworking as he studied at Herron School of Art and Design. But shortly after high school, he took his first glass blowing class and was hooked. He soon began incorporating his glass into his wood furniture creating his signature combinations. Kenyon admits that, while he may be a better woodworker, his first love is glass.
“Once you get past the first two years of being terrible, it becomes really fun,” jokes Kenyon. “Glass has its own personality. I have to constantly counteract what the glass is doing – fighting to create the shape I want instead of letting the glass do what it wants to do. Very different than any other medium.”
Kenyon kept taking classes until he couldn’t afford to take any more. “Glass is the most expensive medium of art – the glass is expensive, the tools are expensive and the furnace is especially expensive. The cost of the propane or natural gas to keep the furnace burning drives up the cost.”
When Kenyon found he couldn’t afford to take classes, he began teaching. He now teaches several classes per week as well as pop-ups – two-hour classes that introduce participants to glass blowing as they work to make a paperweight or magnet.
“At this point, I’m really a better instructor than artist. I love getting people involved. Once people try it, they love working with the glass. But I want to get back to my own art. I want to explore new ways to combine woodworking and glass. I’m going to take this next stage to focus on my art and expand the pieces I offer.”
Kenyon said he looks forward to the opportunity to demonstrate his glass blowing skills during Chautauqua.
Kenyon displays his wares at the Harrison Center for the Arts in Indianapolis. He holds shows the first Friday of each month as well as meeting interested buyers by appointment. But Madisonians don’t need to travel to Indy to take in the work of this up and coming artist. Patrons can watch Kenyon at work, then head to his booth to purchase his pieces during the Chautauqua.
Kenyon encourages people to stop by the Visitors Center parking lot to watch “Fire in the Hole.” “I’ll be making pieces geared toward the interests of those watching.” Building on the fall theme he plans to make pumpkins and flowers. If children are in the audience, he may show how he can turn an ice-cube shaped lump of glass into an octopus. If he can recruit helpers, he will be able to produce more intricate pieces with embellishments.
“I look forward to showing people the process. It’s really foreign to most people to see someone actually create something out of liquid glass.”
Chautauqua fills the streets of Madison with incredible beauty. As patrons wonder yet again how artists can produce such splendor, “Fire in the Hole” offers a window into one of the most beautiful and intricate art forms – blown glass.
Kenyon says, “Fifty years ago glass came out of the factory and became a fine art. I hope people come out to see all the different options and come to appreciate glass working for the art it is.”

 

 
 
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