Thursday, January 28, 2016

Stepping into Eric Sommers' Glass Art Studio

By Stephanie Wang and Sage Passi
Local glass artist Eric Sommers
Photo Credit: Sage Passi

Photo Credit: Sage Passi

Sage Passi, Watershed Education Specialist, visited Eric's studio that he shares with two artists in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis and witnessed his artistic process first-hand.

"As I walked into his studio, I was awed by the amount of complex equipment and tools required for glass blowing." 

Eric and his studio partners Andrew Shea and Susan Warner, a ceramic artist, often collaborate on projects. Susan and Eric have currently been commissioned to create art for two wall spaces at Minneapolis - St. Paul International Airport.

Last November, the Watershed presented its 2015 Watershed Excellence awards to honor the accomplishments of exceptional “leaders” in water resources management, watershed stewardship and civic engagement. Local glass artist Eric Sommers was chosen to custom design and create the awards.

Eric says he enjoys the challenge of glass-blowing. "Working in glass means creating variations from piece to piece. It has taken me ten to twelve creations to come up with the final six that I use for the Watershed Awards."

Creating glass artwork requires a special kind of patience and a great deal of technical expertise.

The glass-blowing studio where Eric creates his beautiful art
Photo Credit: Sage Passi

The first day of a project is typically spent preparing the molten glass. Batches of recycled glass and raw material silica sand are slowly charged to the furnace. Plenty of heat and precise temperature controllers are needed to bring the 150-pound batch of glass to the target temperature of 2400 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing the bubbles to refine and rise to the surface creating the exceptional molten glass. 

The hottest of multiple ovens
Photo Credit: Sage Passi

For the District awards project the creative process began on the second day. Eric drew images of sunfish and crappies on sandblast resistant tape, then cut the images out and attached them to shards of flat, colored glass. Sandblasting etched the fish onto the colored glass. To protect the image and to create a sculptural effect, the etched glass was encapsulated in molten glass.

Photo Credit: Sage Passi

This process was slowly repeated to avoid sudden temperature changes that could shatter the glass. During each step he added molten glass, smoothing and shaping it carefully. Each time the piece was heated in the 2000 degree oven so that it could be shaped and smoothed repeatedly into its final form.

Photo Credit: Sage Passi

Once this stage was complete, the finished products were annealed (hardened), slowly cooling the glass pieces to room temperature over twenty-seven hours, allowing the molecules in the glass to change from a liquid to a solid.

To finish the awards, the sculptures were mounted on blocks of 100-year-old Douglas Fir cut from boards salvaged from a barn in Maple Grove, Minnesota, and then laser-engraved.

At the Recognition Dinner, Eric met the recipients of his work and learned what winning the award meant to these six individuals. Eric had an opportunity to talk about the creative process in crafting the beautiful fish sculpture awards. 

Eric concluded his talk for the award recipients with this wish,

“My hope is that this small sculpture of water and environment will reinforce the importance of clean water stewardship and will resonate with your recipients the heartfelt thanks for their efforts.”

A display of Eric's finished artwork
Photo Credit: Sage Passi

We extend our sincere thank you to Eric for sharing his artistic talents with us and know that the recipients are honored to receive their unique awards.

If you'd like to contact Eric Sommers, you may reach him at 763-566-2274.

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