By Julie Horner
Early spring in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the air is fresh and sweet, and warmth finally seeps into the frosty nooks that haven’t seen sun in a while under the shadow of the ridgeline. Welcome heat from a roaring furnace took the initial chill off, the open aperture beckoning like a porthole to the center of the earth as I arrived at the working studios of local master glass artists, Viscosity Glass.
Owners, Scott Graham and Cristy Aloysi settled in Boulder Creek from the world-renowned Seattle glass-blowing scene to open their own studio where they could create their art freely using decades of skills mastered from their experiences studying and teaching at some of the most prestigious glass studios from Brooklyn to Venice, Maine to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
I arrived as Cristy was working on a new piece. Wielding a long iron rod, or blowpipe, with a blob of gooey material spun around the tip, she welcomed me quickly then excused herself to deftly continue the process I had caught her in the middle of. “Let me finish this…it’s a timing thing!” With amazing grace, she poked the blob end of the rod into the maw of the furnace (called the “glory hole”), and with a series of fluid movements, came to a stopping place with what she was making. I was witnessing the inception of what would become a delicate and unique hand-blown work of art.
The art of glass blowing is its science. Cristy explained that the term, viscosity, is the resistance of a liquid to flow; the trick is getting the molten glass material to the right temperature to shape. “The most beautiful moment in glass is right when it comes out of the furnace…when the fresh, hot glass is dripping off.” This molten blob, or gather, comes from another furnace that contains a crucible, a basket filled with clear viscous material glowing volcanic red and seemingly bottomless. The gathered material is then manipulated by a combination of breath through the blowpipe and rolling on a table topped with steel or other resistant surface to cool and shape, often with the help of other tools, into the final piece.
To have a piece “survive” from gather to completed object takes time and patience. Cristy says it gets easier over time but she never stops learning. “It’s like playing an instrument. The longer you play the more fun it gets.” And where understanding the science of it plays a role, Cristy says, “It’s the making of it where the object gets its life.”
Cristy and her husband, Scott met in art school in Brooklyn. Scotts remembers, “We started blowing glass together, drinking beer together, and, well…” Nuff said there. “For us, glass blowing is an art that goes beyond the object itself. It is a dance between two people, perfectly choreographed to form a unique creation.”
Deciding between whether to continue to create art with a commercial studio or branch out on their own was a question of what they wanted to make versus what they had to make. “We didn’t get into this to be machines, we wanted to express ourselves.” And they’ve gotten pretty good at blowing glass in general, “We can make almost anything.” Scott says he loves finding out what people enjoy, making that connection, and the satisfaction of making the piece, packing it, and sending off.
For Cristy and Scott, glass blowing is a social art. “It’s exciting and super fun when you’re on a team of two or three other people, especially when you’re making something big and monumental.”
Opening their first storefront in downtown Boulder Creek this March 2015 definitely qualifies as both monumental and off the hook socially. The shop sits on the sunny side of the street, the western light pouring through the windows setting the glass inside aglow. Scott says, “It’s been nice seeing people coming through, a mix of part-time BCers and people from out of town,” and of course the locals, “It’s great to see folks, talk to folks.” The community has been very supportive. With a successful long standing wholesale business, countrywide art shows, community glass blowing classes, and the new display space for foot traffic downtown, Viscosity Glass clearly brightens the Santa Cruz Mountains, CA.
On the Web: www.viscositystudio.com
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/viscosityglass
(c) Julie Horner 2015 Originally published in the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin
Julie Horner is an Irish folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org