By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
Art can come in many different forms and sometimes can be viewed as a yard sale. What one person may see as clutter and surplus may be the treasure someone else was looking for. With so many different art mediums, one must understand the hard work that goes into each piece that makes them a masterpiece in the artists’ eyes. For Floyd Cowger, that art is blowing glass.
Born and raised in Fairmont, Cowger gained an appreciation at a very young age for glassware. His grandmother collected antique glass, especially the cobalt blue, which decorated large portions of her home in Silver Lake. “She got me started on carnival glass,” Cowger recalled as a six or seven year old child that was drawn to the iridescent colors. “Her being so in love with the glass gave me the appreciation for it,” he said.
A documentary aired on television a few years ago titled Degenerate Art that focused on blowing glass. The primary goal of this documentary was to “take the stigma away from pipes to art,” as Cowger explained. It drew so much attention from viewers that it sparked an interest in several individuals desiring to take on a new hobby. This included a friend of Cowger’s who went as far as purchasing a second hand kiln and torch. Fortunately for Cowger, his friend never picked it up and offered to sell his equipment.
He set up his “new to him” devices at his grandparents place at Silver Lake Campground, which his grandfather owns. He didn’t pick it up to try his first piece though until July 4, 2015. In preparation, Cowger watched videos but noted they were too advanced for his beginning skill set. “A lot of what I know is self taught,” he admitted. His intentions were to take classes, but the availability of quality courses in the area was either slim or extremely expensive. He has a friend in Terra Alta that assists him when needed, “He helped me refine what I did,” said Cowger. “I’ve had a couple artists lead me in the right direction.”
One day, Cowger’s Father, the singer Floyd Cowger, was working in the Thomas area and went by the Buxton and Landstreet Gallery and saw a sign about glass blowing. He immediately informed his son who decided to go to the gallery and meet the former glassblower who invited him to showcase his pieces after speaking with the owners. Fast forward a year, Cowger and his girlfriend Alexandra Duckworth now reside above the gallery that she manages as a full time job while Cowger blows glass right in the gallery.
Cowger explained the basic technique to blowing a piece of glass. It is begun with a rod or tubing of glass. He pointed out that different colors react differently; therefore, some must be preheated in the kiln beforehand. Once the tubing is prepped, it is introduced into the flame and begins melting into the desired size. Color can then be added and the shape is determined by blowing. Different tools can be used to assist in shaping as well. While still warm, he adds a punty rod, basically a glass handle, it is then lightly cold sealed (or welded) to the bottom of the new object to hold it while the blow tube is removed. The holding stick is then gently broke from the newly formed object and the former weld is lightly filled in.
There are different genres to glassblowing Cowger further explained. Hard glass cools significantly faster than soft, and the resulting piece is lighter in weight. “What I do is all on a torch or is known as lamp working,” he said. With producing these glass pieces, occupational hazards are definitely evident. Not only are you working with shards of glass, but the kiln is kept around 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit and the torch temp can vary from 1,500 to 3000 degrees Fahrenheit. He also informed the glasses that are worn to protect your eyes from the bright light are similar to that of welding but to a slightly lesser degree.
“It definitely takes time,” he said when you first begin. However, he stated that even though the technique can be picked up in a relatively short amount of time, it can take years to truly master the skill. In the beginning, Cowger focused on a few specific pieces to produce higher quality items to sell before furthering his craft. Some of the more basic designs, such as a Christmas tree bulb, can be produced in as little as an hour. However, some of his larger, more intricate pieces can take a couple days. “I don’t consider myself a master by no means, but hopefully someday, someone may think I am,” he said.
In addition to being showcased in the gallery, Cowger has discovered most of his larger sales come from music festivals. “A lot of people know me for my eye balls,” he informed when asked if he has a certain item most sought after. “Those are not common in this area,” he said, along with his octopus tentacles. He has done some custom orders in the past and is open to the idea of doing so again. “I’d always love to do it,” he said.
Future goals are to make several pieces to take to shop owners in the surrounding counties who will hopefully be interested in consigning some of Cowger’s pieces. Plans are to remain in the gallery and continue being seen at local events, such as art and music festivals during the season. Live demonstrations at the gallery are also on the books to produce a one of a kind piece right before your eyes. You can witness this work of art by attending the Open House Christmas Party from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, December 14, though the gallery will be open at 11 a.m. The Open House will feature live demonstrations, works of art for sale, food, drinks, and music. The normal business hours for The Buxton and Landstreet Gallery are Thursday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Mondays 11 am to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesday are by chance.