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Art Files: Heart of Glass

ae glassLocal glassblower Peter Vizzusi has found a following with his unique creations

As Peter Vizzusi moves quickly (he does everything quickly) down the stairs leading to his glassblowing studio, I am plunged into a King Solomon's mines of dazzling hand-crafted treasure. Arranged like celestial gems, row after row, are the iridescent striped, dotted, and brilliantly hued tumblers, vases, and bowls that have made Vizzusi's work a fixture of galleries, museums, and high-end beach houses for 30 years. “These samples,” he says pointing to a forest of gold and turquoise creations, “I’m getting ready to show the Getty buyer.” Yes, that Getty. Shades of blue, aqua, turquoise, cerulean and cobalt persistently inflect Vizzusi’s hand-blown glass collections, along with piquant red polka dots of glass accents. The studio is lodged in a sprawling compound built by his parents, and he and his yoga entrepreneur wife Melanie have been there since 1986.

“There’s a lot of physical stuff involved in glass blowing,” says Vizzusi, coiling himself into a chair like a restless cheetah. He looks exactly as he did when I first met him at the Art Center several decades ago, when he was fashioning art nouveau art glass out of melted wine bottles gleaned from the trash bins of India Joze restaurant.

“The movements of blowing glass have to be very smooth,” he says. Sprezzatura is the Italian word for Vizzusi’s artisanal quest. “To conceal all art, to make it appear effortless— that’s what the glass wants. You need to coax it into shape. The glass dictates.”

Armed with a master’s in ceramics and photography from San Jose State University, Vizzusi started blowing glass in the wake of the first American studio glass masters: Peter Voulkos, Dale Chihuly and Jim Lundberg. “We were melting scrap from Owens Corning we got from a fiberglass shop in Santa Clara. It was crappy glass,” he laughs. That was the late ’70s, and he kept at it.

Part Murano, part Tiffany, all New World, Vizzusi brought an understanding of the ancient Roman and Venetian styles to freshly conceived art glass. “While I respect the skill and traditions of the historical masters,” he says, “I'm free to explore the improvisational possibilities of the molten glass.”

The whole process is about being ready—glass melted to the right temperature, colored glass rods, metallic oxides, and powdered hues standing by—so that Vizzusi can go into his choreography of gathering the glass onto long hollow rods, shaping the piece by blowing and twirling the glass, coaxing it into the desired shape, then adroitly twisting off the glass before it is placed into an annealing oven to cool, very slowly, to the point of being touchable.

Glass is humbling, he admits. “The work is about the material,” he says. But when it’s going well, the transformation is so natural as to be almost unconscious.

Everything has to be ready early in the morning—and once production starts, it has to keep moving. Firing an oven up to 2,300 degrees is a serious operation and Vizzusi isn’t about to waste all that energy.

Today, Vizzusi makes his work in small, cult-inducing proportions. It’s currently available at the Getty Center stores, “a couple of select galleries, and locally at Many Hands and Annieglass.” He also takes his glittering glass creations to a half dozen of the major trade shows each year. “Blowing glass every day—this shouldn’t really be a 21st century job description,” he laughs. “Everything is exactly the same as it was 500 years ago.” A serious cyclist in off-hours, Vizzusi believes that inspiration is the luxury of dilettantes. “Once you’ve got the stuff melted, you just gotta get to work,” he insists. And the minute the oven is turned off, “we relax like crazy.”

Comments (1)Add Comment
I don't have to show you my stinkin' title . . . . . :-)
written by Kathleen Burnham, July 02, 2014
Peter and I were roommates in a large Victorian house in San Jose when he was a "mere" psychology major at SJSU. As the saying goes . . . you've come a long way, baby!

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