PUBLISHED: 5:40 PM on Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Through the looking glass
Visible glasswork art studio provides new downtown attraction
JUNEAU - A local business owner is bringing his passion for glass art to the forefront by introducing Juneau's first visible lampworking studio.

Alaska Art Glass opened it doors earlier this month, featuring glass artwork from pendants and earrings to sushi plates and mosaics. But what makes the store unique, says owner David Summers, is people passing by can watch local artists working on pieces that will later be sold in the store.

Charles Westmoreland photo
  Glass artist Tasha Walen, owner of Basement Studios, works with glass rods in front of the lamp at Alaska Art Glass, a new art studio located downtown at 127 S. Franklin Street.
"People are fascinated with glass art and how you can manipulate glass," Summers said. "There's been glass working around this area for years, but I wanted to ... bring it out of the garage and put it in front of the public."

Summers has brought in local glass artists Tasha Walen and Sara Chatfield to perform their craft in the shop, which is located at 127 S. Franklin Street. The work of other local artists, such as Jessica Taylor, also is on display.

Summers goal is to eventually only offer pieces created by Alaskan glass artists. Currently the store has a few pieces created by artists in Washington.

Walen has a glass studio at home, known as Basement Studios, but has noticed that performing her craft in public is raising awareness about the art form - and drawing in business.

"For (the artists), our primary role is to educate the public," she said. "We want the local community and tourists to come inside and see what we're doing. It's hard to fit people into a private studio."

The artists work in front of a 3,000 degree flame, know as lampworking, to sculpt pendants, beads and earrings in front of an open window where visitors passing by can watch the process. When artists are finished sculpting, the glass pieces go into a kiln for a curing process known as annealing.

"I've seen a lot of local interest and a lot of excitement about what we're doing," said store manager Nicki Franzoni.

Summers said he is prepared to expand if needed. There's a good chance it's only a matter of time until that happens.

Bill Fletcher, general manager of Jewell Gardens and Garden City Glassworks in Skagway, has had to expand his business since the open glass blowing studio was introduced a year ago. A 50-seat theatre also was added to perform demonstrations before the public.

Garden City Glassworks also has a studio where visitors can blow their own glass art.

"Working with molten glass is something people remember for a long time," he said. "Glass art is gaining in popularity. I was struck by how taken people are with the process."