IGNACIO – Observers from around the country gathered last weekend in Ignacio to watch local glass blowing master Roger Dale turn bulbs of molten glass into works of art.
About 250 people, from Vermont to California, gathered at the 19th annual Dale’s Studio glass blowing sale and demonstration, organized by Roger and Cindell Dale. The married couple, both glass artists, make vases, bowls, sculptures and other pieces inspired by the Southwest. Both well-known Grand Canyon river guides, the Dales said glass blowing mirrors riding rapids – risks included.
“It is like a dance – the way we move around each other, and you know where the person is and how not to injure them or burn them,” Roger Dale said, drawing a chuckle from Cindell.
During the event, the married couple and Sam Perry, co-founder of Fenceline Ciders and a former assistant in the studio, made glass works in front of a crowd of avid observers.
The demonstration was a choreographed dance of swirling metal rods, smoke and molten glass. During the process, the heated glass ranges from 1,100 to 2,100 degrees – hotter than the average surface temperature of Venus.
The three glass blowers rotated around each other, deftly anticipating the other person’s needs. Perry used cherrywood paddles and compressed air to shield Roger from smoke and heat, who worked with a heavy bulb of hot glass at one end of a 5-foot blowpipe, while Cindell blew bursts of air into the other end. They barely communicated – one-word sentences were all the experienced artists needed.
“It’s very highly orchestrated,” said Stephen Plume, a visitor from Vermont who met Roger through river trips. “Even as an outsider, a novice, I think we’re seeing master craftsman at work.”
The process takes 8 minutes to create a Christmas ornament, which costs $25. More complex and larger items can take up to 15 hours and cost up to $10,000.
The demonstration and sale is the biggest art show of the year for Dale’s Studio. The event also featured liquid art from local breweries, including Fenceline Ciders, Bottom Shelf Brewery and Ska Brewing, as well as local folk music group Agave.
Roger, who works with glass full time, has trained with world-renowned glass masters like Lino Tagliapietra and Fritz Dreisbach and taught courses at The Studio at the Corning Museum of Glass. He said there might be 100 people in the country who have mastered the medium.
“Some people, the glass controls them; some people control the glass,” he said.
Cindell has joined him from the beginning, assisting in the studio when she wasn’t teaching physical education.
“People have a hard time tapping into the depths of this man’s brain,” she said of her husband. “Some of it is accommodating, some of it is challenging, but all of it is very creative and very industrious.”
Meanwhile, Cindell – the energizer bunny, longtime artist and list-maker – keeps the pair organized, Roger said.
In 2000, the couple brought their business to Ignacio. Several organizations within the town are working to make the town a state-certified creative district, which they see as a potential economic boost and a way to put Ignacio on the map.
When the Dales heard about the idea, they imagined Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, where the artistic reputation draws people from all over. Or, closer to home, Mancos – an established creative district – where the Dales already show their work.
“They’re really hardworking, super-dedicated folks. Whatever they put their mind to, they seem to be able to make beautiful stuff out of it,” Perry said.
The colors and designs on their pieces draw from the sandstone cliffs, water and traditional patterns they’ve come to know while being river guides for OARS Whitewater Rafting.
The Dales, who have been rowing dories for almost 40 years each, said the total focus of riding rapids is similar to the concentration they need to make glass pieces. A momentary lapse in concentration could result in a damaged boat, a serious burn or worse.
“The process is exciting. ... It’s dynamic, it’s dangerous and it’s difficult. Just like rowing dories in the Grand Canyon,” Roger said. “Those things are attractive to both of us.”