Glass man

Hamilton’s Richard Lowrie creates energetic art
(posted 1.11.10)

Richard Lowrie is a happy man. But then, most people who follow their hearts end up where the grass is greenest, which tends to make them smile more.

The Hamilton glass artist is in his studio—his converted garage—moving at breakneck pace through stifling heat, singing, sweating, and calling out orders to his son, Levi, 19; Terrance Patterson, 19; and Alex Johnson, 24, who help him out when he needs a second set of hands. Foreigner is belting out “Jukebox Hero” in the background.

Watching Lowrie work, I can imagine how long he’d last at a desk job. He never stops moving; the soft glass won’t allow that. He’s dipped into the crucible within a 2,200-degree furnace and pulled a molten glob of glass onto the end of a blow pipe—a hollow metal tube about 6 feet long—and has begun to create another work of art: a platter this time.

When it comes to creating a glass piece, “there are no boundaries,” says Lowrie. “We don’t sit here and think about what I can’t do. It’s about imagination and intuition. When I make each piece, I do it in an environment filled with positive energy.”

Positive energy. That’s a theme that comes up often when Lowrie discusses his work and the creative process. He says “peace” often in conversation. He encourages his Web site visitors to “smile often, laugh daily, and be happy.”

These are not idle concepts for Lowrie, who has been blowing glass since July 2005. His work demonstrates his frame of mind, his philosophy. His luminous pieces are kinetic and engaging, whether you’re admiring a “spirit platter,” a “life bowl,” or a lampshade. His creations hang from his customers’ walls and ceilings; they serve as centerpieces on tables; they brighten countless rooms all over the world.

Lowrie’s custom work bears the stamp of a master. He’s created flowers for a wedding and produced a commer-cial installation project for the Red Monkey Bar and Lounge in Walla Walla.  He’s crafted birds and fish—even a seal. He makes jellyfish within clear glass capsules; one customer asked him to incorporate the ashes of a loved one into a jellyfish.

Hot hot hot
Lowrie rolls the molten glass blob in colored “frit,” which is irregular chunks of glass that comes in five sizes, from granular to the size of a dime. Color also can be added to the glass using glass powder or larger bars of colored glass.

He steps to a second furnace and opens the “glory hole,” an opening framed by a ceramic-based material called Castolite that keeps the propane-and-turbine-fed heat inside. (This is a good idea, since the furnace runs at about 2,300 degrees.) The glory hole keeps the glass hot and malleable, allowing Lowrie to expand it, stretch it, mold it, or add more glass to it.

Joan Jett kicks in with “I Love Rock N’ Roll.” Lowrie joins her, slowly spinning his glass piece in the glory hole. He with-draws the blow pipe, sits down and begins forming the glass. A Kevlar sleeve covers his right arm to protect it from the searing heat only inches away. Levi crouches at the other end of the blow pipe, gently blowing on it to expand the glass. Lowrie continues to mold the piece, using a pincers-like tool called a jack, along with blasts from a propane torch to keep the material soft.

Journey to Pilchuck
Lowrie was living in Marblemount in the mid-1990s when he met a man named Jeff Lee, while fishing. Lee eventually introduced him to Steve Smith, an accomplished glass artist. Lowrie took two back-to-back glass-blowing classes at the Pilchuck Glass Studio in 2004, and has since followed up with a third.

It was Pilchuck that did it, he says. “Once I got to Pilchuck in 2004, I realized I was an artist, that it was meant to be.”
He blew his first glass piece in July 2005.

Finishing touches
Lowrie is almost done. He motions for Levi to ready a second pipe, the punty rod. Levi dips a bit of glass onto the punty rod; soon, he will “punty up,” which means he’ll connect that rod to the molten glass on which Lowrie is working. It will form the bottom of the platter.

Lowrie stands up and begins to spin the blow pipe. Faster, faster, faster, until the centrifugal force begins to flatten the glass into a shallow, platter shape. “I probably didn’t need to spin it that fast,” he says with a grin.

Levi places the punty rod against the platter, deposits the base glass, and removes the punty rod. He then dons heavy gloves and a heat-resistant coat, because Lowrie is beginning to weaken the connection between the platter and the blow pipe.

With Levi supporting the platter, Lowrie taps the blow pipe and the platter separates from it with a snap, falling into Levi’s hands. It looks deceptively simple. The piece goes into an annealing oven, where it will be brought from 920 degrees down to room temperature during the next 14 to 18 hours. After that, Lowrie will begin the “cold-working” process, using diamond pads and water to level the piece or remove any small bumps.

Energy within
“Glass moves people,” says Lowrie when asked why he chose that particular medium to express himself. “They say things like, ‘we felt the energy in the piece we bought.’”

Lowrie isn’t selfish when it comes to sharing his gift. He gives lessons and also rents his studio to fellow glass crafters. He wants others to experience the freedom he’s been able to claim.

“When you have something you enjoy from the heart, it’s not a job,” says Lowrie. “We all should do something that makes our hearts happy, even though it’s sometimes hard to know what that something is, since we live in an aggressive society that numbs people.”

Lowrie smiles and looks around his studio. He shrugs. “I love what I do,” he says.

He is happy.

—J.K.M.

Editor’s note: To purchase Richard Lowrie’s glass art, call him directly at 360.421.0582, go to a local gallery, or go to http://myworld.ebay.com/bandanaglassworks/. Lowrie’s work is available at the Sauk View Gallery in Concrete and the Scott Milo Gallery in Anacortes. Lowrie’s Web site is under construction, but can be viewed at www.bandanaglassworks.com.

















 
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