When you think of glass, “hand crafted” is not a word that immediately comes to mind. But that is exactly what the Mid-Valley studio Spiro Lyon Glass has been doing for 29 years. The work comes via a self-taught process of heating glass to molten temperature to create unique works of art. And now, the craft comprises a multi-generational team constantly improving and learning what is possible with glass.
“One of a kind process,” explains Jacqueline Spiro Balderson, owner of Spiro Lyon Glass with her husband Dylan Balderson. “We adapted it from bronze casting and made some changes to the formula so it could work for glass.”
The method began in 1989 when Aspen potter Lee Lyon set out to create a new glaze for a pottery commission he was working on. During a class at the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington, he fell in love with glass. So much so that he returned to the valley, completed the commission and converted his pottery studio into a hot glass casting studio.
Jacqueline started out working for Lee Lyon, but eventually became a partner in the studio.
“We learned it together. We set out on this science experiment of how to work with glass, and make molds, and how to blow glass and make color,” she recalls.
Together, they developed a resin bonded sand mold technique, and it has allowed Jaqueline to experiment and create new works of art and techniques.
“My thing is all about texture,” Jacqueline continues. “I use a lot of intricacies of textures I see in nature, and have glass be something people want to touch. What we love about it is that we can make glass any shape, any size, we can put holes in it, we can carve designs in it.”
This has allowed them to create works large and small — walls, doors, furniture, table tops, shelves and myriad sculptures. Currently Jacqueline is working on a large scale water feature, which will sit vertically on an exterior wall. The design stretches across her workshop as she envisions how the piece will come to life in 3D.
In 1993, Aspen native Dylan Balderson joined up, adding glass blowing to the studio. In addition to commissioned glass pieces, the studio also offers courses through CMC and intermediate glass blowing classes that range from single sessions to eight-week classes. Every Saturday leading up to the holidays there is an ornament class. Jacqueline points out that is a great introduction to glass blowing, to see it and get your hands on it before deciding to take a more in-depth class.
The two styles, blowing and casting, create very different consistencies and qualities. But the two artists team up, along with their sons, to create large format pieces, with everyone lending a hand to work fast as the glass cools.
“Each piece is a grand adventure of trying something new,” Jacqueline says while she lays out colors and tools in preparation for a large pour, as the furnace heats the studio to sweltering temperatures. The furnace rests at 1,800 degrees on a daily basis, needs to be at 2,000 degrees for glass blowing and 2,300 degrees for glass casting. And it takes nearly 24 hours to warm from 1,800 to 2,300 degrees.
Once poured, the thick glass takes eight days to cool, as it has to cool slowly at different temperatures in an annealer. The resin will burn out of it and leave just a pile of sand around the glass.
“Each one disappears in the process, making it truly one of a kind,” Dylan points out, as the mold can only be used once.
Jacqueline has been taking classes to help her design innovative molds, using bronze and 3D printing to create prototypes to test new processes.
“I am learning how to design a negative, to create a positive mold, that can then be reused to make multiple sand molds,” she says.
Jacqueline explains the technique of working in reverse and training her brain to visualize the finished product. Glass pieces start as a foam design, sand resin is made in the dough mixer, foam is packed into the sand to create a negative, which the glass is then poured into.
“There are other people that cast glass but no one does it like this,” Dylan adds as the family watches the glowing orange of the hot glass cool. In a week when it comes out of the annealer, they will be able to see the final product, and hold the glass up to the light.
The Spiro Lyon Glass studio, located between Willits and Catherine Store Road, is open for tours by appointment. Call 970-274-1192 for more information, or go to spirolyonglass.com.