Last month, I hit the streets to hand out flyers for the Arts Council of Windham County’s ARTstravaganza event in Brattleboro. I took this as a great opportunity to visit some places in town that I had yet to see, and on the top of my list was that big mysterious blue building on West River Road / Route 30. You know the one, on the right side just past the bridge construction, on your way to your favorite summer swimming holes. (Click Here for the precise location.)
I wanted to finally see what Fulcrum Arts was all about.
So I entered under the awning that exclaimed “GALLERY” and the flag that simultaneously proclaimed “OPEN.” There was no mystery in those messages. The instant I walked through the doors, I was stricken with a calm and awe. It was as if I had entered a portal into different world, a world where fine art and craft were masterfully displayed as centerpieces to a brand new experience. Quite a few steps above your average artist studio, this place was a well considered space, with lighting perfectly accentuating the skill and talent of all of the artists represented.
I handed the flyer to the woman at the desk, explained the purpose for my visit, and she asked me if I wanted to sit in on the glass-blowing open studio session. I did not expect this but could not turn down the chance to see some hard-working artists in action! And how often do we get to see the actual moments of creation?!
So I walked into the Solinglass studio, where a team of two (Randi Solin and George Billesimo) were in beautiful motion. I was greeted by smiling faces and a very welcoming vibration from both glass-workers, and was offered a seat in the glass blowing arena, a few rows of theater seats directed toward the show.
I gathered within just a few minutes that, in an environment where three furnaces were blaringly red-hot, liquid glass was being handled on long poles, and two people were moving to quickly work their glass within the very short window before it cools and hardens, that they were playing out a careful and cautious choreography. These were two professionals who worked in a state of a heightened awareness, and still had time to humor my questions about the whole process.
Randi admitted, “It’s definitely a dance on a subconscious level that we’re really aware of.”
Randi and George were at the beginning of the process of creating a large commissioned piece called a borsetta, which is “hand-shaped glass off the pipe, with a coloration created by layering the background palette [and] sterling silver foil, over the foreground, resulting in a final composition viewed only through the front; through the clear glass ‘window.'” This borsetta would ultimately measure 11″ x 10″ x 4″, and resemble the most beautiful vase you have ever seen, with a cosmic and oceanic quality.
The two were employing an old school glass-blowing technique, as opposed to a large manufacturing technique, as seen on a Coke bottle with a seam. By layering glass over glass, they could create new colors and swirls. The colors in glass are achieved by adding natural elements; gold for red, cobalt for blue, chromium for dark green, and even uranium for florescent greens and yellows. You can also add sterling silver foil for a metallic shine.
Randi and George worked as a solid team, looking for any imperfections, like dust or cut marks, before adding more layers of glass, which can act to amplify the imperfection. They agreed that it can be a painstaking process, especially since you only have a couple of minutes to work with the glass. There is at once a rush and a focus that is unique to the glass arts.
Solin has nearly 30 years of experience with glass, and George, who became involved in glass later in life, has 18 years of experience, having started with an apprenticeship, and eventually being snatched up by Randi to co-create in the Solinglass studio.
As quoted from the website:
“Solin was one of the first artist tenants at the Cotton Mill in Brattleboro, Vermont. She has been both a pioneer as well as a model for the vision of the incubator space, using the favorable rent and overhead costs as a springboard to expand her business and create livable wage jobs. In 1999, she founded the Cotton Mill Open Studio Tour, which has grown into a hugely successful winter event for Cotton Mill tenants, as well as a much anticipated shopping and learning event for local families, tourists, and the greater Brattleboro community.”
Fulcrum Arts is composed of three parts; the artist gallery, Solinglass Studio, and Natalie Blake Studios. Solin and Blake are co-founders and co-artistic directors of the entire project. Blake is a clay worker, whose 26-year journey with clay started with functional pottery, transitioned into decorative vessels, and “in the past six years she has redirected her studio’s energies to hand created wall art tile murals.”
When I asked Randi where they got the name “Fulcrum Arts,” she credited their previous location as the inspiration, in Downtown Brattleboro near the New England Youth Theater on Flat Street. They were situated between Cersosimo Lumber and the Latchis Theatre, right at the “fulcrum point” between manufacturing and the arts. Since both Solin and Blake are manufacturing artists, the name was a perfect fit for them.
Fulcrum Arts is a really exceptional arts space in Brattleboro, with a nice mix of viewable, purchasable, and engaging art. The gallery features diverse art exhibited by Randi Solin, Natalie Blake, Cynthia Parker-Houghton, Lisa McCoy, Lisa Blake, George Billesimo, and David Stern.
The Fulcrum Arts Gallery is open Monday – Saturday 10-5 and Sundays 11-4. The Solinglass arena is open Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursday, Fridays and some Saturdays. Both glass and clay workshops are available, with no experience necessary and all ages are welcome!
Check out the Fulcrum Arts website, stay updated through their Facebook page, and definitely plan a visit when you are in town. Take a look at the artists individual websites as well: Natalie Blake Studios and Solinglass !!
I extend a huge THANK YOU to Randi and George for allowing me to sit in on your process, and to witness creativity in real-time. It was a true honor to experience such a high level of craftsmanship, and I will definitely return soon, maybe to blow my own glass this time!