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From Ashes to Beauty

The Art of Glassblowing

By Amanda Crowley | Photography by Romona Robbins

For over twenty years, Russ Gilbert has been honing his craft. His talent: conceiving and executing beautiful works in glass. Listening to Russ describe the process of creating a glass paperweight, one gets the feeling that his journey parallels his art: “Working from the inside, starting at the core, building layer upon layer to form a strong, dense, and beautiful weight.”

As a young man, Russ grew up on a farm in a tight-knit rural community. “I was happy to teach my neighbors about all aspects of farm life,” he reflects. One evening, he stopped by his neighbors’ house and found them making small glass animals with blow torches. Fascinated by what he witnessed, he asked them to mentor him in the art of making glass. This chance visit was the genesis for his future destiny. As his passion grew, Russ decided to continue studying glassblowing in Corning, New York, and he participated in workshops at the Corning Museum of Glass. Now widely known and respected by his peers, Russ has created art pieces that can be found in homes across the country.

Russ’s love for his craft is evident as he patiently explains the details and technical terms of glass art. “There’s flamework, which is probably the second most popular or known style—the artist uses glass and a torch,” he states. Russ is considered a master in flameworking, the technique which first sparked his passion for glass art. Also called “lampwork,” the style is credited to father-and-son duo Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, who made intricate and carefully detailed glass flowers using a lamp and bellows beginning in about 1886. “Thankfully, we have torches now!” Russ laughs. As developing technology has changed the field of glasswork, the technical skills required to master the craft have remained. Talent is only a small facet of glass art: passion, practice, and vision sustain the artist.

Floral garden glass sculpture flowers Russ Gilbert metalwork Mac Corley
Floral garden sculpture with glass by Russ Gilbert and metalwork by Mac Corley

Russ’s first gallery opened in 1996 in Ruskin Place—a flourishing artistic community in Seaside, Florida. Since then, Fusion has moved to a much larger retail studio and gallery in Seaside’s Central Square and also boasts a second location at Grand Boulevard Town Center in nearby Miramar Beach. The galleries’ popularity and success are partly thanks to Russ’s belief in displaying a wide range of pieces and styles from over 150 American artists. With values ranging from around $16 up to $30,000, there is something for everyone. Fusion’s collection has grown exponentially over the years and now offers a variety of high-end home decor, from wall art and intricate light fixtures to bowls, paperweights, and vases. Fusion also sells art outside of glasswork, including jewelry and ceramic pieces.

With so many works of art on display, admirers are immediately drawn into the store. “I want it to be real and down-to-earth, not stuffy,” says Russ. “I don’t mind if people take pictures in the gallery. If someone really likes a piece, they should remember it. Then, maybe a year from now, they will go online to find other pieces by that artist.” He continues, “Looking at beautiful works of art is inspiring. It’s great when people feel a connection to a piece.”

“Looking at beautiful works of art is inspiring. It’s great when people feel a connection to a piece.”
Finishing touches glassblown art Russ Gilbert Home and Garden Issue
Russ adding the final touches to a piece

Russ’s first gallery opened in 1996 in Ruskin Place—a flourishing artistic community in Seaside, Florida. Since then, Fusion has moved to a much larger retail studio and gallery in Seaside’s Central Square and also boasts a second location at Grand Boulevard Town Center in nearby Miramar Beach. The galleries’ popularity and success are partly thanks to Russ’s belief in displaying a wide range of pieces and styles from over 150 American artists. With values ranging from around $16 up to $30,000, there is something for everyone. Fusion’s collection has grown exponentially over the years and now offers a variety of high-end home decor, from wall art and intricate light fixtures to bowls, paperweights, and vases. Fusion also sells art outside of glasswork, including jewelry and ceramic pieces.

With so many works of art on display, admirers are immediately drawn into the store. “I want it to be real and down-to-earth, not stuffy,” says Russ. “I don’t mind if people take pictures in the gallery. If someone really likes a piece, they should remember it. Then, maybe a year from now, they will go online to find other pieces by that artist.” He continues, “Looking at beautiful works of art is inspiring. It’s great when people feel a connection to a piece.”


Searching out fresh and diverse talent year after year may seem challenging, but the community of glass artists is tightly knit, and the intrinsic value of an artist is quickly known. Despite all of the recommendations he receives, Russ only displays top artists in his galleries. Due to the difficult techniques used when working with glass, there may only be one piece produced that earns a gallery spot at Fusion. Holding the artists in his store to the highest standards allows Russ to maintain a variety of the best glass art and ensure he provides his clients with one-of-a-kind pieces.

Russ’s history of creating glass works is extensive, but he is constantly finding new inspiration and ways to perfect his skills. “Nature. Nature is my inspiration,” he states. Living near the breathtaking beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, the calming state parks in the area, and the beautiful lakes of the Florida Panhandle, Russ is continually inspired. He is also influenced by the work of the Blaschkas. “Their skill sets were amazing, especially since they were using a gas lamp and bellows to achieve miraculous works of art,” Russ comments. Respecting the talent and dedication of those who pioneered the art glass movement and shared their skills with others is important to Russ. Having been inspired by the Blaschkas’ glass flowers, he hopes the work in his galleries will do the same for other aspiring artists.

Fusion’s latest venture is in the interior design sphere, as Russ and his team have recently been commissioned to create three pieces of art for the newly expanded Henderson Park Inn at Henderson Beach Resort, an enchanting beach getaway in Destin, Florida. “They’re using all local artists with diverse styles,” Russ relates about the project. “I’m making three pieces—all using different techniques—for the inn.” Russ’s ability to create using different styles of glassworking will not only showcase his talents but also produce pieces that best complement each space. For the area behind the lobby’s front desk, Russ will create a flamework piece; the restaurant walls will be adorned with seven groupings of fused glasswork, and the center of the spa will feature a furnace-made piece. His work is just beginning for this project, but it is sure to make a bold statement in the resort upon its completion in 2017.


“Designing the decor with our art for a client in NYC has recently opened many new doors for us to become place makers with our hand-blown glass art for hotels, residences, and boutique spaces that want a unique and fresh impression,” Russ comments. “I like creating custom pieces that act as an exclamation to a space.” A thoughtfully placed piece of art can bring a home to life, create conversation, and unite the home’s different areas with cohesive design elements.

Passion for glass artwork radiates throughout the entire Fusion team. “I’m really lucky; they’re all good people,” Russ says. The mentor–student concept that Russ appreciated during his youth has stayed with him and can be seen at Fusion today. When using the furnace, Russ is assisted by a member of the team, who in turn learns from Russ’s experience and through practice alongside him. Additionally, Russ’s daughter, Gillian, has recently joined the team as business manager. Many of Fusion’s staff have earned degrees in glasswork or fine arts. Russ leads a fun and hardworking group of nine members who all enjoy coming to work. Surrounded by so much creative energy, talent, and color, it’s no wonder working at Fusion is a blast!

Russ’s unrelenting dedication to the study of glasswork is admirable, but he doesn’t see it as a job. “I am paid to play; I love coming to work,” he says with a smile. He exudes excitement, and his love of creation is contagious. “There’s nothing, and then there’s something. That’s the hook—the passion, the creation, the possibility of what you can make.” Given that philosophy, we might all be inspired to create something.

— V —


www.FusionArtGlass.com



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