Local glass artist gains international appeal – by Courtney Hartzel
Tucked away in a converted lodge at a former YWCA camp in Fombell is Silver Lake Studios, where glass artist Raymond Nelson creates hand-blown bowls, vases, ornaments, perfume bottles, paperweights and—the most popular item—vessel sinks, for which he has filled orders from as far away as England and Spain.
Clients commission custom sinks with a specific color scheme in mind, but the design specifics are largely left up to him. Lest you question the durability of these sinks, Nelson can attest to their strength. “I have one in my master bath, and we have three kids,” he said. “They’re really durable.”
Once a sink has been commissioned, customers can expect to wait six to eight weeks for the finished product. Nelson fires up the furnace at Silver Lake Studios only two times or so a year for a six-week period, due to the great expense involved. But he has open access to the glass studio of his friend Ed Kachurik, who operates full-time with a staff of two employees at Ed Kachurik Glass Art in New Kensington.
It’s a symbiotic relationship, really: Nelson gets to complete his projects on Kachurik’s equipment, and Kachurik’s employees benefit from Nelson’s expertise and assistance with whatever projects are going on there.
Nelson studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) and completed a five-year program to earn a bachelor of fine arts in glass blowing. He described the process of mastering the art of glass blowing as “two years of failure, and then you finally learn.” From the basics of making cylinders, balls and modified cylinders to incorporating imagery into glass vases and other pieces via the Swedish-developed Graal technique, Nelson built a foundation of knowledge that is ever expanding. “It’s a constant learning process,” he said. “There’s a lot of experimentation—you play with colors and shapes until you succeed at fulfilling your vision.”
Experimenting with glass blowing is not inexpensive; the colors in blown glass come from frits, or bars of super-concentrated pigment granules imported from Germany. “Burning gas 24/7 really adds up,” Nelson noted.
In addition to experimenting on his own, Nelson compares ideas with other glass artists at Kachurik’s studio and at other forums including Glass Art Society (GAS) conventions. An international nonprofit founded in 1971, the GAS’s annual event gives artists the opportunity to pick up new equipment and watch demonstrations.
Local shows and art fairs have moved to the back burner, so to speak, ever since Nelson opened Nelson Kitchen and Bath in 2011 and started devoting most of his attention to design and remodeling. The design center and showroom, located on Route 228 in Mars, features design options for everything from cabinetry to countertops to flooring, and it also showcases glass art by Nelson.
Also featured is the handiwork of other artisan friends of Nelson’s—ceramic pottery by Bob Isenberg, framed fiber artwork by Sandy Kephart, photography by Scott Davidson, glass art by Ed Kachurik and handcrafted wooden furniture by Jim Moose — all a testament to his longtime immersion in the artistic community.
Fittingly, it was at a gallery show in Grove City that he met his wife, Elizabeth, who does metalworking to fashion jewelry and other pieces.
To see some of Nelson’s work, visit silverlakestudios.com. For those with an interest in learning the art of glass blowing, Nelson suggests visiting the Pittsburgh Glass Center (pittsburghglasscenter.org), which offers a wide range of activities, such as demonstrations, tours and classes.
Original article here.