Think artisan, and you picture a maker space in a factory loft or farm cottage and handcrafted items artfully displayed in a charming storefront on a pedestrian stretch of Main Street. Since last fall, however, some serious artisan activity has been taking place right off the highway. Easy to miss as you’re whizzing by on Route 28 on your way from Kingston to Woodstock, the Woodstock Art Exchange and Pablo Glass Studio are located in a complex of buildings in West Hurley. Rather than gasoline and coffee, they offer art, hand-blown glassware and an array of unique handcrafted items – plus glassblowing.
The Glass Studio is situated in a barn-sized prefab metal structure with an enormous window and a black-and-white sign depicting a 19th-century glassblower plastered to its side. Here owner Pablo Weinschenk and an assortment of visiting craftspeople practice the ancient art of glassblowing, which dates back to the first century BC. On most weekends, visitors are welcome to watch the mesmerizing process of transforming a liquid, molten substance, like something harvested from a volcano, into a hard, clear or colored symmetrically shaped glass. The blast of heat from the multitude of furnaces is an added attraction on a cold winter day.
Next door is the Woodstock Art Exchange, a gallery and gift store located in the former garage painted cheery red. It is currently exhibiting the woodcuts of Margie Greve and the pastels of Rob Wade, and stocks a rich assortment of glassware, much of it crafted in the Studio and including several pieces that represent tour de force treatments of the medium, among the very best creations of contemporary glass art, along with various crafted items ranging in price from $5 to over $1,000.
Weinschenk, who runs the business with his wife, Georganne Chapin (officially, she’s the marketing manager), opened the studio last October, following the construction of the prefab building over the summer. For nearly 20 years, the native Argentinian – his father was a German cinematographer who fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s – ran a successful photo lab and printing studio in lower Manhattan, catering to some of the world’s most famous photographers, until changes in technology led to the closure of the business in 2004 and a new career as a glassblower. Why glass? “I was always fascinated by glass,” said Weinschenk. “The type of material I used to make prints was this high-gloss vividly colored Cibachrome,” which had a glass-like quality.
After studying the craft at Urban Glass, a renowned art-glass studio in downtown Brooklyn, and with a succession of glass artists, he opened his own studio in 2010 at Garnerville Arts Center, a massive 19th-century industrial complex in Rockland County repurposed as artists’ studios and exhibition space. Unfortunately, the very next year, Hurricane Irene hit and the studio was destroyed in a flood.
Weinschenk had met Chapin, who runs a Medicaid nonprofit health care company in Tarrytown, just after his photography business had crashed, and she had encouraged him to pursue his interest in glass. With the help of her son, Ernesto Echeverria, who had learned glassblowing from Weinschenk and become a glass artist himself (he now serves as the Studio’s production manager), Weinschenk rescued what he could from the wreckage and rebuilt the studio in the garage of the couple’s weekend house in Woodstock. He later moved his facility to Kingston’s Shirt Factory, then to a 5,000-square-foot loft in the Brush Factory. But the space was expensive, so in 2015 he and Chapin bought the property on Route 28, which had been abandoned and consisted of a house, three-bay garage and enough land to construct a studio. The gallery, which features rotating two-month shows of work by mostly local artists, opened in December 2016.
Partly because the town’s zoning restrictions have prevented him from erecting a sign for the glass studio, “People come in and say, ‘What is this place?’” said Weinschenk. “People know us through the art shows and personal connections, but we don’t get many walk-ins.” In the spring, he plans to improve the visibility by installing a glass door in the studio so people can glimpse the glassblowers at work, constructing an attractive deck out front and affixing an eye-catching hand-blown glass “beast” to the chimney. Meanwhile, half a dozen glassblowers, one traveling from as far away as Ithaca, are renting the space (which can accommodate two glassblowers at once).
“Glassblowers are like a big family,” said Weinschenk, who spent two summers studying at the Pilcheck Glass School, where he made many friends and connections. “We exchange time: I assist somebody and give him some time, then he does the same to me.” His studio is the only one in the region that rents out time to other artists. “One problem glassblowers have is that maintaining their own studio is prohibitively expensive,” said Weinschenk, adding that after running his own business for many years, which necessitated having to fix his own machines when they broke down, he has the requisite skills and know-how. Meanwhile, he benefits from the continual exposure to other glassblowers and the opportunity to learn from their techniques.
One of the biggest expenses is paying for the fuel to keep the furnace that houses the molten glass at a temperature of 2,200 degrees (because it takes three days to fire up, it’s more cost-efficient simply to leave the furnace on 24/7). During my visit, glassblower Chad Davis, who manages the Studio, was making a small glass: a process that began with preheating the tip of the metal blowpipe in a small furnace and extracting a glob of molten glass, with the viscosity of honey, from the main furnace, which glowed bright red. Davis sat on a wooden bench and blew through the pipe to create a bubble, then deftly rolled the pipe on a parallel set of metal tracks positioned on either side of him to shape the glass, cradling it in a blackened piece of paper in his hand before reheating it in a second furnace, called the “glory hole,” to keep the material pliable. He then dipped the glass into granules of pigment in a metal scoop before more rolling, shaping and reheating, including pinching the bottom with tweezers to create three tiny feet.
Weinschenk then took a solid metal rod, called a punty, from the furnace where a row of pipes and rods were kept hot and grabbed a small glob of molten glass before tapping his rod, with a quick, sure motion, to the bottom of Davis’ glass, where the small glob adhered, pulling the glass off Davis’ pipe and leaving the opening exposed, so that Davis could now shape the lip of the glass. Davis rubbed a metal block against the surface of the glass, which Weinschenk explained was used to cool the surface so that it “becomes like the skin of a balloon.” He repeated the rolling process, snipping off the excess glass with shears. Now clear and shiny, the glass was transferred to a third furnace, called the annealer, whose slowly decreasing temperature over a period of hours gradually cools the glass, which prevents it from cracking. The whole glassblowing process took about 15 minutes – a kind of steady-motion, surefooted dance with no wasted effort or stasis.
Weinschenk said that learning glassblowing “was very difficult” – although he noted that for Chapin’s son, Ernesto Echeverria, “It was very easy. He’s a natural.” Having a background in graphics and color was an advantage: “Though not technically great, my pieces were always more pleasing to the people.” His bright-colored “squiggles” – a vaselike form culminating in a skinny, flamelike swirl, resembling something that the Cat in the Hat would drink from – are a bestseller (“They’re why we have a gift shop here”) and are priced at $22.50. Tables in the concrete-floored studio were covered with squiggles, along with his sophisticated, barrel-shaped black vases, adorned with a white accent line around the middle; Fantasialike glass candlesticks; tall, curvy dark-colored striped vases and many other pieces. Works of all shapes and sizes by other glassblowers are clustered on shelves and more tables.
The shop displays a marvelously eclectic display of glassware, including some large plates made by Echeverria. Two of the most unusual pieces – an opaque white, mysterious-looking, round-as-the-moon container that looked both ancient and futuristic and a sculpted head that appears to be made of bronze but is actually glass – are by Louis Sclafani, a Rosendale resident who learned to blow glass in Murano, Italy back in the 1970s “and is our fanciest glass artist,” according to Weinschenk – as well as the priciest, with the head priced at $4,000. It’s surpassed in price tag only by the lovely tabletop marble sculptures of nudes by Joseph Attardo, who resides in Olivebridge, and an unusual hanging chain artwork consisting of hundreds of interconnected circular glass tubes by David Licata. Rob Scavuzzo’s tall, organically shaped multicolored pieces are also stunning in their fluidity, with areas of color glistening as if they were encased in a waterfall; the Ithaca-based artist sells his work through galleries all over the country.
The contemporary glassware, arranged on shelves and freestanding display blocks, is complemented by Greve’s and Wade’s art. Greve’s large-scale, hand-colored woodcut of a female nude swimming with three fish dominates one wall: a monumental application of the medium imbued with the grace, schematic patterning and animation of an ancient Greek vase painting. A second large woodcut, depicting banks of clouds, hangs over the door, while a print depicting a woman bent over in a field further demonstrates the artist’s fascination with and mastery of pattern.
Other works by her include a portrait of a pipe-smoking Tom Crean – an animal-loving member of Shackleton’s expedition to Antarctica – holding a cluster of pups, and several framed acrylic paintings resembling Tarot cards in two-tone brown and blue, which depict rock ‘n’ roll stars as the archetypes for a set of cards depicting the mystical journey of the Fool, who gains knowledge through experiences in life and music. (Prints from the set are also for sale.) Greve, who lives in Bearsville and formerly worked as an art director, graphic designer and patternmaker in New York City, has had her woodblock portraits published in The New Yorker and Rolling Stone and created the digital-collage portraits illustrating John Milward’s book, Crossroads: How the Blues Shaped Rock ‘n Roll (and Rock ‘n Roll Saved the Blues).
Wade’s work consists of pastel drawings depicting pigs, goats and sheep, both in neutral black, gray and white and muted, Vuillardlike colors. While the animals are depicted in a landscape setting and have a distinctive character, they also read as graphic images or signs, with simplified areas of tones and color. Wade, who resides in Mount Tremper, studied at the School of Visual Arts, Art Students League, SUNY-Farmingdale and the Woodstock School of Art, and cites Henry Moore, Milton Avery and Susan Rothenberg as among his influences. The show is up through March 11.
On the weekends, while Weinschenk is busy in the studio, Chapin staffs the gallery. A graduate of Barnard College, where she studied Anthropology, she played the flute and performed with her former musician husband, who was also from Argentina, in the City while developing her career as a healthcare executive. Chapin is also the founder and executive director of Intact America, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to ending the practice of male circumcision. “In five years we’ll be successful and maybe have classes as well as demonstrations,” she said. “We want to raise the awareness of glass and revive glassblowing in Woodstock,” added Weinschenk. “People do love to watch it.”