The Block Island Times
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Trips Abroad: The Glass Station

By Bob Stiepock | May 30, 2013
Glassblower Eben Horton.

As you admire the glass artwork, the striking shapes and colors among myriad designs in Eben Horton’s Wakefield store, The Glass Station, you’re asking yourself: How does he do that?

Well, Eben’s workshop and furnace are just a few feet away from his display room, so he showed me how he does it. His fluid motions transfixed me as he removed the blowpipe from the furnace, rotating the 2,000-degree molten blob of glass while making a quick puff to start the process.

“The first step is like starting to blow up a balloon,” he explained. “You know, getting past that initial pressure. Then I put my thumb over the mouthpiece to capture and compress the air and let the glass expand a bit. After that, I’m ready to create.”

I watched Eben create the softball-sized globes that will be hidden around Block Island for the 2nd Annual Float Project beginning May 31. Moving the blowpipe like a wand, he placed the glass ball in a ladle-like scoop called a Cherry Block while explaining that “cherry doesn’t smoke as much or burn as fast as other woods.” Turning and blowing, turning and blowing, he shapes the ball.

With variations of this process, most often more complex and time-consuming, Eben designs glass artwork that ranges from the spectacular to stunning. Beauty is important, but in the context of craftsmanship, Eben would subscribe to a “Form as Function” approach. “One of the reasons I chose to study at The School for American Crafts is its emphasis on functionality. Take Installation Art, for example. Objects existing in a certain space are fine, but I like to create interactive public art installations — the Block Island Float Project, for instance.”

Eben Horton’s approachable, disarming demeanor and full beard remind you of Edmund Gwenn (the actor played Kris Kringle in the original version of “Miracle on 34th Street”). However, his beguiling personality belies an intense commitment to his craft and an earnest pride in his artwork that began when he was growing up in Newport. He was nine when his mother took him to Thames Glass to take advantage of an offer to make Christmas ornaments. He remembers that he “had a chance to do it, not just watch.” At age 15, he started working at the store after school. After graduating from Rogers High School, he enrolled in The School of American Crafts at the Rochester Institute of Technology, “spending most of my time in the glassblowing workshop.”

Eben has an affinity for Block Island that’s rooted in his growing up in Newport. “My grandfather, and later, my dad, had boats and I always loved going over to the Island,” he said. One of his favorite designs, images embedded in paper weights, started with thoughts about Block island. “I fashioned an image of the island and figured out a way to set it in the glass. People liked it and now folks ask me to embed all sorts of images,” Eben said.

Making an image-embedded paper weight seemed like a relatively simple task, but Eben was quick to respond that, “It’s actually not simple at all — quite challenging, in fact.” I asked him what design he found most challenging. “I like making wine glasses. They really test your skill as well as your patience and concentration.”

Eben’s website, ebenhortonglass.com, contains pictures of his most recent commissions including a Bellagio-style chandelier and outdoor lighting fixtures at the Fairhaven, Mass. Town Hall. But if you’re in Wakefield, don’t pass up the chance to enjoy the kaleidoscopic effect of seeing Eben’s designs in a small space. If you’d also like to watch Eben at work, you should call first to make sure he’s in the shop and not out and about at an exhibit — or enjoying the Float Project on Block Island.

The Glass Station (for years, a gas station. Get it?) is at 318 Main Street in Wakefield (next to Brickley’s Ice Cream store). Call 401 788 2500 or email ebenhorton@gmail.com.

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