Of all the art mediums, perhaps the most mysterious is glass. It's not hard to understand putting paint on a canvas, weaving, even welding or casting molten metal. But just how does one carve glass? How do they put those little flowers inside a glass paperweight? How do you shape the intricate details of a gazelle's head?
Jared DeLong is a little mysterious as well. He's a local glass artist who has done all of those things and more, and this weekend, the second weekend of North Coast Open Studios, you will have a rare opportunity to watch him in action. When he opened his studio in 2000, his intent was to have it open to the public so people could come in to watch the process, and that worked for a while. At that time, he was making some pieces that he could start and complete within the amount of time the average person would want to hang around watching.
As he developed his craft, his pieces became more complicated to the point where he might spend several weeks on a piece, and it's not often the kind of work that lends itself to spectators. As a result, most of Jared's work happens behind closed doors so you only get to see the breathtaking final results and scratch your head over how they could have come into being.
But this weekend, you can get a glimpse of the process -- at least part of it. Jared is among scores of Humboldt County artists who will have their studios open June 9 and 10 from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. He will be working with his torch and also showing some of the "cold" work that he does -- polishing, cutting and sand blasting.
It's an interesting time to catch him at work too, because he's at a watershed moment in his career. Jared has spent the last 10 years learning all of the technical aspects of glass work that he can. He's made a successful line of paperweights and become well known in circles of glass art enthusiasts. He's done some really remarkable work following the guidelines he's learned from his teachers. But now he's thinking about how to break the rules he's spent so much time learning.
Every artist comes to a point where it's time to leap off the solid ground of technical knowledge and dive into the creative unknown. That is the point that Jared is at -- he's just starting a new body of work that will be more "his own" then anything he has yet created.
"Up until now," he explains, "I've been thinking, 'I have this set of tools, what am I going to make with it?' Now, the approach has changed to, 'forget about what I know I can do.' Now I come up with an idea and I just start working on it. Now, instead of letting the technical dictate the result, I'm creating the ideas and the technical aspect takes a backseat."
The body of work that he just finished, carved and sculpted glass knives, was the technical feat that served as a bridge. "Making the knives was a big learning process for me from the technical end, and also from a planning and patience perspective."
Above: DeLong's glass knife titled "Raptor'
The knives have clear glass blades, and the handles consist of a colored glass section and a frosted, clear glass section sculpted in the shape of an animal head -- a gazelle, an eagle, a boar. They entail some hot work, but also lots of carving and shaping that happens when the piece is cold.
He is now turning his thoughts to his next big body of work, and it's at this creative stage that he feels he can be more interactive with the public. He wants to continue making larger pieces and finding ways to get out of the confines of a very traditional craft. He speaks of the challenge that he finds in glass work as "separating yourself from the history of glass."
Many people have an idea of what glass work is -- beads and paperweights have a long history, for instance. "If you get caught in that, you find yourself turning into a business manager creating a product," he says. "That's something that's driven me to try to make things that are different from other people's work."
There are so many interesting things to do and see this weekend at Open Studios. Having said that, I hope you'll make it to a good many of the other 150 or so artists participating in the event. For a full listing of events, look for copies of the Redwood Arts Guide at the Co-op, Wildberries, Eureka Natural Foods or wherever you see the Open Studios poster, or check out the website at www.northcoaststudios.com.