- Associated Press - Saturday, May 27, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Grant Garmezy glanced down at the papers fanned out on the floor - pictures of vultures, from various angles - before eyeballing the 2,000-degree glass globe in front of him. Getting his bearings, he began working quickly and with surgical precision, pulling at the glass on each side with sharp sculpting tools, the makings of the beast’s eye sockets. A pull here, a stretch there - sparks flying as his tools connected to the hot glass - Garmezy worked in short spurts and stopped often so his partner, Sandy Wilson, could push the whole piece via metal rod back into the hot furnace nearby to keep it pliable.

Over and over and over this process went, until from all those pulls and stretches, symmetrical eyes and a sharp beak emerged, bringing life to this molten orb.

Henrico County resident and Nashville, Tenn., native Garmezy is one of seven Virginia glass artists participating in the 46th annual Glass Art Society conference at Norfolk’s Chrysler Museum of Art on June 1-3. The event brings the world’s best contemporary glass artists together for public demonstrations and displays, lectures, classes and more, including a series of public events May 31.

Garmezy, 32, who has been making his living as a glass artist for six years, is stoked. Beyond the sheer honor of doing a demonstration in front of his peers at one of his industry’s most prestigious events, Garmezy will get to do it with the people closest to him: There’s his wife, Erin Garmezy, also a glass artist, as well as his team - close friends and fellow craftsmen he’s assembled over the years who work alongside him, including Wilson, Adam Childress, Mike Martin, Sean Donlon and John Forsythe.

It’s not an opportunity that comes along often.

Specifically, Garmezy and company will do a demonstration June 1 as part of the unveiling of the Hot Glass Roadshow, a modern, state-of-the-art mobile hot shop owned by the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y. Think semi truck-turned-hot glass amphitheater, complete with a furnace and decked out with televisions so the audience can watch the action step by step.

There, they’ll sculpt another vulture head and blow a large glass bubble, to which a pre-sculpted lion head will be fused. The vulture will sit atop the lion, glass feathers will make up the lion’s mane, and flowers - just a small touch - will be added to each side.

Desktop paperweights, these are not. But if that’s what comes to mind when you think about glass blowers and artists, be prepared to be schooled.

On a rainy evening earlier this month, both country music and hot air blasted inside The Glass Spot along North Lombardy Street in Richmond. Open bags of chips and a few beer bottles rested next to bowls of colored metallic powders and rustic tools.

The only hot shop within a two-hour radius of the metro-Richmond area, it’s Garmezy’s home away from home, a place that has allowed him to stay in Richmond after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University’s art school in 2007 instead of moving to some other part of the country where glass art thrived.

There, the garages - the hot ovens used to fire glass - stay fired up 24 hours a day. Owned by glass artist Chris Skibbe, The Glass Spot opened in 2007 and offers classes and demonstrations, as well as a place for people like Garmezy to work. From September to April, the public is invited to come out every third Thursday to see glass artists in action. In typical Richmond fashion, there are food trucks and beer and wine.

Unlike many glass artists who learn functional glass blowing or lampworking (also called flameworking or torchworking because it involves making small pieces using torches,) Garmezy was never interested in that.

“I wanted to learn how to sculpt glass,” he said. While at VCU, when he’d learn a new glass technique, he always took it a few steps further. An overturned bowl, for example, given lines and texture and depth became a tortoise shell instead. Animals always appealed to him, a nod to growing up on his parents’ cattle farm, he said. Much of his work now involves cattle skulls, birds, fish - or sometimes, like his lion-vulture piece - a combination of more than one.

“A lot of it is trying to capture energy and emotion,” he said, which he can do with animals in ways that he can’t with inanimate objects. “Glass is so stiff as a medium, and it’s moving while we’re working with it, but once it comes out of the (cooling kiln), it’s kind of lost some of the magic.”

Garmezy estimates there are only about a half-dozen glass artists around the world who sculpt glass. Because of that, “I had to travel to learn from people,” he said. In addition to VCU, his education includes time spent at Pilchuck Glass School, started by world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly, as well as an eight-week residency at North Lands Creative Glass, on Scotland’s eastern coast.

Adam Childress has been working with Garmezy for nearly a decade. A lampworker by trade, he assists Garmezy, Skibbe and other professionals who frequent The Glass Spot, as well as glass hobbyists.

“It’s definitely a big team effort,” Childress said about working with Garmezy, adding that there are times when the team works upward of 12 to 16 hours on a complex piece. He’s not a fan of the spotlight, though Childress said he’s excited about the upcoming GAS show, particularly for the exposure it’ll offer his longtime friend.

“He’s really made a name for himself, and I’m happy to be there for him,” Childress said. “I’m proud to be part of Grant’s process.”

As many artists do, Garmezy has learned how to piece together a life with many threads. He travels the world, both to teach and to learn. He produces commission pieces, offers private demonstrations and participates in the occasional high-end craft show (his pieces typically start at $400 and often exceed several thousand).

He’s represented in three galleries across the country, including the J. Fergeson Gallery in Farmville, the Chesterfield Gallery in Manhattan (he has a solo show there in December) as well as the Diehl Gallery in Jackson, Wyo. Smaller production pieces - his signature antlers - also pay the bills.

He’s also collaborating more and more with his wife, Erin, also a lampworker. Her handmade flowers often adorn her husband’s pieces, hanging from a set of antlers or tucked here and there into larger pieces, such as the lion-vulture sculpture they’ll assemble during the conference.

As for the conference - it’s just one more stoke in the fire, Garmezy said. Participation is by invitation only, and once an artist has been invited to demonstrate, it’s an additional three years to have the chance to participate again. Though he travels abroad regularly, it’s often solo or with his wife and not his whole team.

“It’s really special because we’ve worked together for eight years, (and) I can’t do anything without them,” Garmezy said about his team. “This is just an exciting moment for us to all be on stage in the international eye with our peers.

“We’re always trying to find one more thing to push the field further, to keep it interesting for us, and to keep people interested in us,” he said, then added, “I feel like we’re just getting started.”

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