Marbles-and-More            

James Alloway Interview


All Pictures are courtesy of Alloway Art Glass

 

 

 

                   

 

                   

 

Q - Having read your bio, it seems awfully strange how a "gear head" building hot rods, becomes a renowned glass artist. Is there any similarities between the two?

A - Building motors involves perfection...so does working with glass.
I took all of my skills from working with motors, (i.e., electrical, welding, refrigeration/heating) and applied them to constructing my own studio which allowed me to start working with glass

Q - Do you have any "hot rods" today that you tool around the streets of Portland in?

A - I have the "Family Pet," a 1974 Ford F 250 Camper Special that has a rebuilt engine, a "Future Beauty" 1969 Chevy Nova that I put a 350 4 speed in to, and the new to me baby.... A 2000 BMW 323i, which is named "Goldmember."  The BMW has the sport package so I get to "enjoy" driving in this little beauty.  The Nova has the potential to be a "hot rod" in the future.... love to hear those tires screech!  The gearshift in the Nova is a spiraling blue orb that I made :0)

 

                   


Q - A back injury pointed you in a different direction from your days as an auto mechanic,  were your early ideas concerning glass more along the lines of a hobby?

A - I actually started with stained glass which evolved in to fused glass as a hobby to keep me from getting bored as I mended from my back injury.  I continued to reminisce about my early trip to Colonial Jamestown, I was intrigued about furnace glass.  I took one class and then came home and built a studio in my garage.  My father owned his own business, so I knew that I wanted to do the same.  When I had the studio ready, I then attended the school of hard knocks, burns and cuts and worked on perfecting my skills.  After the furnace was fired up it went from a hobby to an obsession.

Q - Did you ever envision becoming a Master Glass artist?

A - Someday, I hope to achieve that status.  There still is so much that I would like to learn, I realize that it will take a lifetime.  Glass has a way of keeping you humble, if you think you are good, just add one more gather of glass and try again.  It is all about practice, practice, practice.

 

                   



Q - Are there any other artisans in your family tree? Any future artists?

A - I have a 14 year old daughter, Shanna.  She is very artistic and has done very well in the classes that she has taken in school.  It still a bit too early to tell if she will channel this in to anything to do with glass.

Q - What became of your early glassblowing pieces? For example, were you immediately selling your wares?

A - When I started I had the discard pile directly next to the opening to the glory-hole.  This pile went from waist high to having nothing there, I knew that I was on the right track by watching this pile dwindle.  I gave many of my early pieces to friends and family,  I’ve managed to sell almost everything or I’ve had to pay to have it taken away.

 

                   



Q - Did your early obsession with glass go over well at the house? I mean, a studio in the garage after a few classes of glassblowing wouldn't go over too well at my house. Were your talents obvious at the time?

A - Actually it was exactly the opposite, by working from home making art glass, I was able to help raise my daughter.  It actually came to me easily when I first started working with glass.  With glass you’ve either got it from the start or you don’t.   I can’t really say if my talents were obvious, I just knew that I wanted to be good at this and to be good meant that I could pay the bills from my craft.

Q - How long have you been working with glass?

A - I started working with furnace glass in 1987, 15 years and counting.

 

                   



Q - This seems like a strange question, but have you in the past, or are you planning in the future, to work with any other medium? Maybe dabbling in ceramics or something?

A - I am not really interested in any other mediums.  I have many more things that I would like to do with glass, for instance I would like to have a furnace with hot colors.

Q - You're self taught, does that mean you've made a few...ahem.... mistakes along the way? Care to tell us about any?

A - Where do I start?  I have made just about every mistake you can make, many times over.  You have to learn to be critical of your own work and have a lot of patience.  There are literally about 100 steps to making a marble and if you mess up on one step, your piece does not turn out.

Q - Where did the idea of you making marbles originate?

A - My friend Dan Wolf was selling items on eBay and he talked me in to trying to sell my creations on eBay.  He kept pushing me to try marbles, but I only listened to the eBay part.  After I started selling paperweights on eBay one of my first patrons, Pat Sellars, contacted me and asked me to make a perfectly round paperweight... after seeing the reception that marbles received, the rest is "history" so to speak.

 

         



Q - I've read where the craftsman of old would pick up shards of glass at the "End of the Day" and make them into large marbles for their kids. Did you have any similar experiences where you came up with something whimsical just for fun?

A - Everything is fun for me when it comes to working with glass, at least since I got away from  production work.  Working with glass, you are always on the brink of disaster.  Getting the glass hot enough to work, you’re barely in control, it is a complete adrenaline rush.

Q - In your Bio it mentions the importance of timing in regard to glassblowing, did you think your work in marbles would become so valuable so quickly?

A - I had no idea that my marbles would receive the attention that they are getting.  It has been a pleasant surprise to me and it has been very inspirational because of all of the positive feedback from my clients.  It really pushed me to try harder.  I love all of the competition, there are a lot of really talented artists out there.  I give some credit to eBay but a lot of credit to my girlfriend Carrie who works at promoting my work.

 

                   



Q - Any suggestions for the up and coming marble maker? Is there a secret to success?

A - Practice and learn from your mistakes.  Never compromise quality and remember that your clients are what enable you to work with glass. 

Q - How about for the person who is thinking of taking a few classes and putting together a studio in the ol' garage?  :-)

A - I say go get your head examined.....Have you heard the term "glass junky"?  It is addictive and expensive....having a supportive network of family and friends would really help to keep you going. 

Q - Can you put into words your creative process in making beautiful glass art like marbles? Do you envision the end result beforehand, or go with the flow and see what happens?

A - I used to just go with the flow a lot, but now I envision things before I actually make them.  The creative aspect is very complicated, there are at least 100 steps to making a marble that go in to the process.  I don’t know what makes me creative, but I do know what makes me NOT be creative.  I have had minimal support for years, the question of "when are you going to get a real job?" was forever in my head.  The direct positive feedback from my clients has really been the necessary encouragement for developing my "creative process".

 

                   



Q- I love the names you have for your marbles...."Gaffer's Revenge," "Parallel Universe," "Portland Psychedelic" and "Split Personality" to mention a few. You seem to have a lighthearted view about your work, but you obviously pay close attention to details, how do you do it?

A - Well...I can't play the guitar or sing.  It is my love of abusing the English language coming out in the names I create.  Honestly, I am a smart-alic at heart, I don't take anything too seriously.  I hold a new marble design in my hands and kick around names until something makes me laugh.  When you take things too seriously, it takes the fun out of it.  I am all about having fun.

Q- What are the steps involved in making a marble?

A - Every now and again a e-mail will come through complaining about the prices that my creations get via the on-line auctions.  Initially I was offended, as there is a great deal of time and energy that goes in to each marble that I make.  Over time, I have come to the conclusion that the people who have written to complain have not been informed about what is involved in the marble making process.  The different pieces of cane that I create are a 2 day project in themselves.  I literally devote 2 days to making long sections of the different cane designs, it looks like a rainbow on the table that I have to hold the cane until I use it.  Mixing and making the barium crystal that I use is another days project.  The actual process of creating the marble and utilizing the different components that I have crafted is anywhere from an hour to 2 hours depending on the size.  Finish work usually takes about an hour to an hour and a half depending on size.  Ed Schmid has a couple of books that I would highly recommend called "Beginning Glassblowing," and "Advanced Glassblowing Techniques."  These are a fantastic source of information.  It is available from Olympic Color Rods, at www.olympiccolorrods.com.

 

         



Q - Where do you get your inspiration? Are you influenced by other glass artists?

A - The artist that most influenced my work would be James Nowak.  As far as inspiration, being able to pay the bills is a good motivation.

Q - What's in store for the future of Alloway Art Glass? Any new designs or projects you would like to share with us?

A - I have been blowing some larger pieces lately.  I like to do a variety of things, it keeps me from getting bored.

Q - Thank you for taking the time to talk with us James, any parting words of wisdom?

A - Just remember that it takes a LOT of patience and time to work with glass, don’t get discouraged and don’t give up.

 

                   

 

         


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