Blown Away

James Whitehurst uses wet newspaper on cooling molten glass to form it after working it in the 2,300 degree Fahrenheit Glory Hole as he makes a spin out bowl at his home in Rainbow Lakes Estates on Friday, April 30, 2021. Whitehurst has been a glassblower for 32 years. His glassforming technique involves inflating molten glass into a bubble (or parison) with the aid of a blowpipe and repeatedly turning and rolling the molten glass and gathering more molten glass until the last step when the glass is spun out from one end to create a bowl. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.

Home » Arts & Entertainment
Posted May 28, 2021 | By Lisa McGinnes, Ocala Gazette

Glassblower skills honed through decades of trial by fire

James Whitehurst works at his home to create a spin out bowl using wet newspaper. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

Standing in front of a 2,300-degree furnace is James Whitehurst’s happy place.

The glassblower recently set up a studio in the garage at his Dunnellon home, where he creates beautifully colored, handblown glass works of art.

A lucky break right after high school gave Whitehurst the chance to begin learning his craft 32 years ago. The Tampa native’s father had a friend who was a glassblower. The glassblower needed a helper for his demonstrations to tourists at Medieval Times in Kissimmee.

Whitehurst has been a glassblower for 32 years. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

“That’s where I first started blowing glass; all we did were demos,” Whitehurst remembered. “So there was a little bit of learning and then a little bit of making vases and making glasses to entertain the people.”

Whitehurst continued to apprentice in Ybor City, helping his mentor fill wholesale orders for blown glass ornaments.

“It was just production work for years,” Whitehurst said. “In glassblowing, you need a lot of time of handling the glass to get comfortable and be proficient at it. So it was repetitive work, but it gave me good glass handling skills.”

The most exciting part, he recalled, was selling his first piece just several months after starting.

James Whitehurst works at his home to create a spin out bowl using a 2,300 degree Glory Hole. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

“He would give me time to do my own work so I could explore and do vases and that sort of thing. When I sold my first piece, I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’”

Before moving to Dunnellon in 2012, Whitehurst spent a decade working in St. Petersburg with well-known Florida glass artists, including Duncan McClellan and Chuck Boux. He also learned a lot working with Romanian master glassblower Vasile Loznianu.

“He would always say, ‘More practice, more better,’” Whitehurst remembered with a smile. “I was getting paid to work with him, but I was just blown away the whole day watching him.”

Some of the glass artwork pieces that James Whitehurst has created, including a graal vase, center. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

Now, with his workshop just steps from his home, Whitehurst is enjoying exploring artistic design and developing his signature style. In addition to creating delicate bowls, goblets and vases, and the colorful blown glass fish that are popular at the Rainbow Springs Art Gallery, he is experimenting with the Swedish graal technique, which allows him to create a complex artistic design and sandblast it onto a blank glass vessel. He’s also developed a niche working with collectible uranium glass, popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The glass is slightly radioactive and glows under black light.

“I’m looking forward to the next 15 or 20 years of just doing my own work,” Whitehurst said. “I have visions of what I want to do; I have the picture in my mind. I feel very blessed that it all fell into place that I could learn this craft. It’s very satisfying to make glass, really any kind of craft, for your living.”

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