I first met Chad Balster at the Cherokee Art Fair. After no less than five people came to show off their handblown rocks glasses, I had to see what all the fuss was about. Needless to say, I came home with one, too.
Chad is a hot glass artist, originally from Wilmont, Minnesota, who came to Louisville by way of Seattle and Minneapolis, to be part of our thriving arts community and to have access to the incredible creation spaces in our city.
Glass blowing has been his craft and profession for 23 years, but it wasn’t always his artistic ambition. As a young man art was the thing that got him off the farm (we’re talking the literal prairie), but painting was his original field of study at the University of Minneapolis, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts with honors in Painting and Drawing. One summer during his studies he got a job in the hot seat working with glass and fell in love.
He furthered his studies at the University of Wisconsin and after making his way to Louisville became the resident artist at Louisville Glassworks where he created original works, taught classes, and helped to grow access to glassblowing in our city. He founded his company Chad Balster Glass in 2012 and makes commissioned pieces and original designs to sell both online and at art fairs around the country. Somehow he also finds time to teach at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York, an opportunity born from a Louisville connection which led to him becoming a TA in the course Color Systems in Glass with Mark Matthews.
Chad loves that the Louisville arts community is strong and encouraging. Collaboration and challenge among respectful peers helps the scene to thrive and grow, attracting new talent and sharing our city with the world as they travel to share their work and develop up and coming creatives.
We had the privilege of spending an afternoon with Chad, his assistant of 13 years Bill McAvinue, and their part time assistant Miranda Hornback, at Hyland Glass in Butchertown where we sweated buckets and watched him create two custom plates for a client. Watching their team chemistry was almost as impressive as watching the glass shift from liquid to solid and back again repeatedly in the 2000 degree furnace flames.
While watching him work we asked Chad some questions about his craft. Here’s what we learned:
Yes: Why glass?
Chad: For me it’s about bringing something to life in the fire. There’s nothing else like it. It’s a process with each piece and there is a kind of relationship and conversation happening with the artist and the glass every time.
Yes: What is the history of this kind of glass work?
Chad: This process has Italian influence. It is actually the same process artists have been using for blowing glass since Roman times. The equipment has changed, but the premise of the process, the method at the core, is the same.
Yes: Tell the truth, how often does something break?
Chad: About one in ten break, but when when we sometimes make 40 glasses a day, that’s not much.
Yes: What is your favorite thing to make right now?
Chad: Wine goblets are my favorite because they are difficult but beautiful.
Yes: So just how hot is everything your are working with here?
Chad: The furnace itself is 2000 degrees (natural gas heat) and the glass comes out at 1500 degrees. We have to work it carefully and quickly between firings so that it doesn’t get too cool in between. It’s a very delicate balance. Bill and Miranda help make the balance work right. By opening and closing the furnace, blowing and helping to shape things along the way, we keep it working toward the final goal.
Yes: How do you get the colors you want in the glass?
Chad: Colors come from metal flakes that are rolled onto the starting glass piece. These that I use are from Germany.
We loved watching you work, Chad! Thank you for welcoming us into your creative process! You can check out Chad’s work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram. Follow Bill on Instagram and Facebook as well to see his latest creations! Interested in shadowing a hot glass artist in Louisville or exploring the art for yourself? Check out Hyland Glass!