The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

August 11, 2013

Glass act

By Wendy Holdren
Register-Herald Reporter

BECKLEY — In Studio C at Tamarack, visitors can snag a bird’s eye view of craftsman John DesMeules, melting, blowing and shaping glass into beautiful, one-of-a-kind artworks.

One recent Friday, an audience had gathered around the window to his studio, as they watched him crafting and twirling molten glass into a candy dish.

“This is our first time seeing glassblowing in real life,” Kristen Carr said. “We’ve only seen it on television before.”

This Palm Beach County, Fla., family certainly got a treat during their first visit to Tamarack, as their eyes were glued on DesMeules’ every move.

DesMeules, actually a Florida native himself, has been making glassblown masterpieces for the past 22 years.

Right after he graduated from high school, he got a job at a sandblasting place where his brother worked. Then in 1991, he learned the art of glassblowing from a man named Don Hamon in Scott Depot.

His first creation was a paper weight, but over the years, he has mastered much more complex pieces, such as large vases, ring holders, candy dishes, ornaments, drinking glasses, pen holders and more.

Inside his studio, DesMeules can be found jamming to his favorite bands, Coldplay and U2, not even breaking a sweat in the smoldering temperatures.

Even though he got his start in a “backwoods shop” in Eleanor with no one watching, he said having an audience at Tamarack doesn’t bother him at all.

He moves through the motions swiftly, from one furnace to the next, called the “glory hole,” and on to the bench, which DesMeules has playfully dubbed “The Captain’s Chair.”

Coincidentally, the glory hole is actually how DesMeules ended up as a Tamarack artisan.

“I actually wanted to buy it, but they didn’t want to sell it, so they ended up asking me to work here.”

Tamarack has now been home for DesMeules for the past two years, where he works Friday, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday.

He even offers visitors the opportunity to step inside his studio and make a glassblown creation of their own for $45.

Although glassblowing is definitely not as easy as DesMeules makes it look, it is a lot of fun.

The tip of a blowpipe is first preheated, then dipped in molten glass in the furnace, at about 2,000 degrees. The molten glass is gathered on the end of the blowpipe and transferred to a marver, which is a flat slab of steel.

This process, called marvering, forms a cool skin on the exterior of the molten glass blob and shapes it. DesMeules then blows into the blowpipe to create a bubble, and more glass can be added on the exterior of the bubble if he wants to create a larger piece.

Once the piece has been blown to its approximate final size, the glass is cracked off at the top, and reattached to an iron rod at the bottom, so the top can be opened and shaped.

The shaping process takes place at the “Captain’s Chair,” where DesMeules uses shears, paddles and tweezers to make his art come to life.

Once the item is complete, it is cracked off the rod and the bottom is heated to smooth over the rough glass, then placed in a final furnace called a lehr, which is used to slowly cool the glass.

Although this process is a difficult task for a novice, DesMeules breezes through the steps with ease and says it’s still fun to do after 22 years.

“I’m really thankful to be able to do it,” he said. “Tamarack helps me out tremendously.”

To see some examples of his work or watch some videos of him in action, visit the website for his business Glass Dimensions at www.wvsculptedglass.com.

If you want to see the craft in person or even create your own glassblown piece, contact Tamarack at 304-256-6843 or visit www.tamarackwv.com.

— E-mail: wholdren@register-herald.com