Orient and Flume Gallery Review
From sand to art
Art Facility Review- Orient and Flume Art Glass Studio
About the Studio
Located at 2161 Park Avenue in the small Northern California town of Chico, tucked back from the main road is a world famous blown glass art studio known as “Orient and Flume”. This studio was originally located at the corner of Orient Street, and Flume Street in Chico (hence the name) and purchased in 1972 by Douglas Boyd who transformed an old house into a working glass art studio. It subsequently outgrew its original location and was relocated to the current Park Avenue address where it has remained open since that date. They are open Monday through Saturday in the showroom from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. The studio, where you are able to watch some of the glass production, is open Monday through Friday and closed on weekends.
The studio is a working studio with a large production facility in the back that accommodates several artists. Located in the front is a small section that contains historical pieces and memorabilia along with a seating area where you can sit and watch a short video on the process of glass making. In the main entrance is a gallery where selections of various works are displayed and sold- from large glass vases to small pieces of original jewelry. The prices for pieces in the gallery range from $100 dollars for a small pendant, all the way to several thousand dollars for a large vase.
Their art is widely known and held across the world and includes pieces in the private collection of Tiffany. According to their advertising, “The work of Orient & Flume can be found in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum, the Smithsonian Museum, the Chicago Art Institute, and the Chrysler Museum, the Corning Glass Museum and fine stores and galleries throughout the world”.
The studio currently has five artists who work both on individual pieces and in collaboration with each other. Bruce Sillars is the original employee, having begun his career with Orient and Flume in 1973. Along with Bruce are four other artists, all masters in the art of glass blowing according to the curator. Their works are displayed in many galleries around the world including our local Bay area. You can find some of their pieces in Gumps of San Francisco, Crystal Fox in Monterey, and The Mission Gallery in San Juan Batista to name a few.
One of the most stunning pieces produced by the studio’s artists Bruce Sillars and Scott Beyers, in my opinion, is a fourteen-inch high vase entitled “Aspen”. The general design subject matter is nature. It is not realistic in design, but representative of Aspen trees that appear to be blowing in the wind on a fall day against a cobalt blue sky. The translucent quality of the glass enhances the windy autumn scene.
The primary background color of transparent cobalt blue highlights the design theme of Aspen trees. The artist’s use of color offers a strong contrast between the cool colors of white, blue, and black, against warm reds, gold, and orange. The trunks of the Aspens that surround the perimeter of the vase are flowing vertical lines of white with specks of gray tones intermingled. The earth is represented at the base of the vase by a warm almost caramel color. The red and orange color of the leaves are strongly set apart against the white tree trunks and blue sky.
The use of warm and cool colors also creates a sense of depth or spatial relationship. The leaves come forward against the cool color of the sky in the background. The warm and cool colors also create a strong value relationship between dark and light.
The nature theme is represented by a variety of textures. The texture of the earth, the white and gray of the aspen bark, and the leaves, are all different, and skillfully applied by the artist to create a sense of implied textures. The material – the glass- further adds to the textural variety in a very real way.
The artistsalso use lines skillfully to create an interesting design. The Aspen trees create strong vertical designs that are broken by the diagonal branches in the foreground. The quality of the actual colored glass creates a wispy horizontal design in the background that seems to represent the wind blowing on a cool fall day. The color of the leaves adds to the autumn theme.
The overall shape of the vase creates a grand form independent of the pattern, along with curves that lend a feminine flair. It reminds me of a traditional Greek vase. The nature pattern seems to be more an Asian design because of its flat, simple shapes. However, even though the design is made of primarily flat shapes, in general, the use of line and color create a great sense of depth. The use of design elements combined with representational subject matter evokes a strong and pleasing emotional response.
The process that it took to create this beautiful piece of art is anything but simple. The artists must face a fiery furnace heated to 3000 degrees in order to melt sand into glass. They take a metal punty, according to the curator, that is much like a big straw- that is dipped in the hot liquid glass in the furnace. They spin the punty around and pull out a big blob of molten glass that will be pulled, pushed, spun, cut and rolled all the while blowing air into the punty, until the desired shape is achieved. The patterns and colors of the art piece “Aspen” are rolled into the molten glass. There are other techniques that can be employed, but each piece determines the technique used. Unfortunately, we were there on a Sunday and therefore unable to witness the process firsthand. We were, however, able to watch a video that was well executed and described the glass blowing process.
After seeing the depth and beauty of each piece displayed in the gallery, and learning about the process it took to make each of these works of art, I came away in awe. When you look at a vase on a shelf and you can study the intricacies and nuances of color, texture and form…to know that it was once a pile of sand is amazing. It is almost a spiritual experience to see the skillful way an artist can bring their vision out of the grains of earth and into the creative reality of an exquisite piece of art.
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