Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - September 20, 2013

An artful pumpkin patch

Great Glass Pumpkin Patch returns to the Palo Alto Art Center with thousands of pieces

by Carol Blitzer

They're whimsical, colorful, playful, artistic, beautiful — and offer much to see and enjoy when the 18th annual Great Glass Pumpkin Patch® returns to the newly renovated Palo Alto Art Center this month.

More than 8,000 pumpkins made of hand-blown glass crafted by 24 glass artisans will be on display Tuesday through Friday, Sept. 24 to 29, with the sale held on Saturday and Sunday.

Proceeds of the sale benefit the Palo Alto Art Center, as well as nonprofit art-education organizations, the Palo Alto Art Center Foundation and the Bay Area Glass Institute.

Here's what a few of the artisans have to say about their works:

Pix: Hanson and Kastles (pumpkin teapot) photo credit: Ingrid Hanson

Ken and Ingrid Hanson, Hanson Art Glass, San Carlos

Ingrid Hanson and Ken Hanson met in a glassblowing class at San Francisco State University and have been creating works together for the past 20 years.

What draws Ingrid to the work is the challenge: "It constantly pushes you to strive harder to be better. It's not a mindless thing. You have to focus and concentrate and be very present and in the moment."

There are no second chances with glass, she said. "Once you mess it up, it's done."

The Hansons have participated in the Palo Alto Clay & Glass Festival for 18 years, as well as selling to 200 galleries and museum shops and online catalogs.

Among the 800 to 1,000 pieces the Hansons are bringing this year are their signature pumpkin teapots and their miniatures (about 1.5 by 1.5 inches).

At their private studio in San Carlos, the Hansons create sculptural (like the pumpkins, paper weights or blown-glass flowers), functional (tumblers, water glasses, wine and martini glasses) and custom work (lidded vessels for storing pet ashes).

"I've always been artistic," Ingrid said, adding she considers herself lucky to be able to earn a living working in glass.

Pix: 3 pumpkins w/long stems (photo credit: Drew Loden)

John Glass, Glass By Glass, Culver City

When John Glass moved from Tennessee to Hollywood, his goal was to be a movie star. But one day en route to acting class he spotted a glassblowing class — with a humongous waiting list.

When the teacher saw his name — Glass — she quickly moved him up the list, saying it was meant to be.

"I took to it like a fish to water. This is what I was supposed to be doing," he said.

Five years later, the 30-year-old works out of a four-bedroom home in Culver City, creating what he calls a more eco-friendly glass product, using recycled glass and firing up his furnace daily, rather than leaving it on 24/7.

This year he and his crew produced 3,000 pumpkins.

And while he's still doing a little theater on the side, and taking classes towards his bachelor's degree, he acknowledged that even in the "first year I made more money in pumpkins than in acting."

Pix: 5 orange pumpkins (w/swirls)

Louis Basel, Wonderworks Glass, San Jose

Artist's statement: "There's something really rewarding about glassblowing in that when the glass is molten everything you do affects the final outcome when the glass is cold. Often, it's the subtle little things that distinguish a nice piece from an exquisite one. The difference is often not the presence of an element but how it's done, a certain twist of the wrist, a little extra heat at the right time. These little details from the moment the glass was worked are all encoded in the piece when you see it. "

Pix: Avolie - orange, crackly glass pumpkin (photo credit: Dean Bensen)

Dean Bensen and Demi Theofanous, Avolie Glass, San Francisco

Dean Bensen started out as a biology major, thinking he'd have a career in forestry. Today he's a glass sculptor, crafting glass redwood trees, tree bark, fungi and forest animals — and, of course, pumpkins.

After switching to art and learning kiln-forming glass, as well as glassblowing, he was approached a few years back by the director of the Pacific Art League to come up with some pumpkins.

"I like originality. The form had to be a little bit more unique," Bensen said of his unusual stem design.

Nowadays he collaborates with Demi Theofanous in their Avolie Glass studio, where they create drinking vessels as well as pumpkins, in addition to their other work. For nearly 20 years they've been making glass together — and have exhibited their sculptural work at the Oakland Museum, San Jose City Hall, National Liberty Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Craft + Design.

Their ornaments, vessels and pumpkins can be found in galleries all over the country, as well as at Shady Lane in Palo Alto.

And, their glass pieces are used as set decor on the TV show, "Giada at Home."

Pix: 4 pumpkins (but small) (photo credit: Nick Leonoff)

Nick Leonoff, Leonoff Art Glass, Carmel Valley and Brooklyn, N.Y.

There isn't much about glass that Nick Leonoff, 34, doesn't love, beginning with the way it plays with light and color.

Although he started out working as a stained-glass apprentice in Carmel Valley, he slowly evolved to a glassblower and carver. While earning a business degree from Pepperdine University, he attended a leadership camp where the expression "follow your passion" stuck. Soon he was helping his mentor market his work and putting together a "back-alley glassblowing studio."

"It was funky but it worked. That's where I was introduced to glassblowing," he said.

Describing himself as largely self-taught, Leonoff practiced a lot alone, then took workshops and studied at glass schools all over the country. First selling at farmers markets, today his pieces can be found in the Corning Glass Museum in upstate New York.

Today he works bicoastally, either in Carmel Valley or in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Much of his work involves adding textures to the surface by wheelcutting the glass, even for his pumpkins. He's planning to bring about 1,500 to the pumpkin patch, including quite a few "minis" (about 3 inches in diameter).

Leonoff's voice warms when talking about glass: "I love the process, the spontaneity, the immediacy of working with the material ... the limited time to execute ... the intensity, excitement."

He also acknowledges a lot of teamwork. "I now work with one assistant. It's like a very coordinated dance that we do (where we're) highly attuned to each other's movements. We work as one organism to create the work."

Pix: bunch of colorful pumpkins (photo credit: Kyrana Michaelson)

Shannon Jane Morgan, Girl Glass Studio, Sacramento

Artist's statement: "Making art glass is what I love. I'm primarily self taught and for the past 19 years I show up almost every morning and create. I travel into my artist's brain and consider, think about or am inspired by someone or something. Then I pick up a blow pipe and start — sometimes without a true plan, but perhaps a process as moldable as the medium I converse with. My palate of color laid out on my steel table. The furnace roaring and my tools and coffee right were I need them. Color speaks to me in a language not shared by others.

"Time falls away when I am in that space like no other place in my daily world."

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What: 18th annual Great Glass Pumpkin Patch®

When: Exhibition: 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday, Sept. 24-26, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Friday, Sept. 27. Sale: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 28-29

Where: Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Road, Palo Alto

Cost: Free, but 8,000 glass objects will be offered for sale

Sponsors: Palo Alto Art Center, Palo Alto Art Center Foundation and Bay Area Glass Institute, Go Daddy

Info: www.greatglasspumpkinpatch.com

Associate Editor Carol Blitzer can be emailed at cblitzer@paweekly.com.

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