The last few weeks before Christmas often bring the stress of finding the perfect gifts for family and friends, but for glassblower Josh Hewitt, the perfect gift begins with patience and a flame.
"I gave Mom a paper towel holder last year that was a bunch of marbles with butterflies and flowers (in them) all put together," said Hewitt, the owner of Crickle Crack Tree Glass Creations. "Just to put in the kitchen and take down our old raggedy wooden thing. I told her this year, 'I kind of over did it last year. I don't know how I am going to top that paper towel holder.' "
The 24-year-old self-taught glass artist creates many glass goods, from wine bottle stoppers and blown Christmas ornaments to jewelry in his home shop off Chamblin Road.
Marbles are one of Hewitt's specialties. It takes nearly an hour to create a roughly 1-inch-diameter solid glass marble with a colorful and often whimsical design inside. Butterflies are popular, and flowers are one of Hewitt's favorite because each is unique.
"Even if I take the same colors and try to make the same thing, it is going to be completely different," Hewitt said while working on a marble with a butterfly inside.
He said each marble begins as a disk of solid clear glass, borosilicate, the same type of glass that Pyrex cookware is made from. He uses a glass rod to hold the disc into the flame of a glassblowing torch powered by oxygen and propane.
"It is a science lesson, understanding how glass works and the physics," Hewitt said.
As the glass of the soon-to-be butterfly marble becomes pliable at about 1,500 degrees, Hewitt adds color by "drawing" lines and dots that will become the butterfly body, wings and antennae with thin, colored-glass rods.
"That's how it starts, just lines and dots," Hewitt said. The angle at which the glass is heated is a key to successful glassblowing. "You actually let gravity work as your tool. So I'll let the outside glass, the clear, wrap around the color. By doing that; it makes it three-dimensional."
Many of the marbles the 2001 Greenbrier High School graduate creates end up flattened on the bottom and attached to a wine bottle stopper base. The wine bottle stoppers are Hewitt's most popular sellers at local art festivals including Arts in the Heart of Augusta and other events where he sells his wares.
Glassblowing came out of nowhere for Hewitt, who said he actually did wake up one morning and decide he wanted to work with glass. He stumbled on the art form three years ago while finishing an electronics degree at Augusta Technical College.
Hewitt said he watched a few videos and shows about glassblowing, spent many hours researching in on the Internet and called store owners for advice about equipment..
"I still have some more stuff I could learn," Hewitt said. "Every day I learn something new. I've talked to folks who have been blowing glass for 10 years and they tell me the same thing."
Though the size of his torch limits the size of his work, Hewitt said he doesn't do much actual glass blowing. He enjoys giving demonstrations with the torch to show people not all glassblowing is done by three-man teams working furnaces and a 15-foot-long pole.
Despite his artistic history in which he dabbled in drawing, painting, pottery and woodworking, Hewitt said he never saw himself as the stereotypical starving artist.
"I never wanted to be (an artist)," Hewitt said. "I do want to be now. I love it. I definitely never planned on it. I had big plans of a corporate job or the medical field or something. Not this. Definitely not this. And I would have it no other way at this point."
Hewitt said he plans to open a store by the end of 2008 with more equipment and more trained glass blowers so he "doesn't have to always be the only one in the fire."
At festivals and shows, Hewitt said people are always fascinated by the glass-blowing process and tell him he is talented for the skill he learned and honed.
"But it is learned," said Hewitt, who spends long hours at the torch. "It is like reading Chinese. If I gave you Chinese right now, you wouldn't have a clue what to do with it. But if you study it for three years, you are going to be reading that stuff like it was English."
His wares can be viewed at www.myspace.com/cricklecracktree. For more information or to buy a piece, contact Hewitt at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (706) 833-7247.
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