By JEAN ZEHRINGER GIESIGE
NEPTUNE — Drivers passing by the old Davis farm north
of Neptune are hardly ever aware of the life-and-death struggle
that goes on some days inside the outbuilding that once held
farm equipment. In it, brothers Scott and Barry Davis remove
their art from a fiery furnace, praying through clenched teeth
and tightened jaws that it will not shatter in a cool fall breeze
from the open doorway, or fall to the concrete floor and explode
into a thousand glittering pieces.
The Davis brothers are glass artists, working with solid glass
objets d’art that are formed on poles, not blown and certainly
not touched by human hands, at least not until they have cooled
from the 1,000-degree heat that radiates from each piece as
it is finished. Their work, step by step, is fraught with peril
for both the art and the artists as the brothers move carefully
around each other to avoid any number of hot surfaces and hotter
objects in their workshop.
“A lot of people think we just pour this stuff into molds,”
said Scott Davis.
If only it were so easy. The brothers begin each piece by putting
a four-foot, stainless steel pole, called a punty pole, into
a furnace that holds more than 200 pounds of molten clear glass
at a constant temperature of 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once they have a “gather” of molten glass on the
pole, they role it in a palette of colored glass that has been
ground to a specific grit. Layers of gold leaf, bits of silver
or copper may be added later to achieve the appearance that
first takes shape in the mind of the artist.
Between each layer of glass or gold, the piece is poled into
the “glory hole,” a box of radiant heat that looks
like the surface of the sun. The glory hole heats the glass
on the end of the pole to 2,700 degrees and melds gold and glass
together into art of its own accord.
“In our minds we certainly have a picture of what we want,”
Barry Davis said. “But anytime you put a piece of glass
into 2,700 degrees, the heat is going to do what it wants.”
Layer after layer, they build their art, swinging or rotating
the pole between dips into the glory hole to force the piece
into a shape they like. Once the shape and color are right,
they dip the piece once more into the furnace of melted transparent
glass that will lock it in place forever — as long as
it doesn’t break in any of the steps that still remain:
the cooling, the grinding, the faceting, all laborious and slow
steps toward a finished piece of art.
The brothers said they work together in silence as each forms
his own smaller pieces, or they help each other with larger
“It takes such a degree of concentration that when I’m
working, I can’t talk,” Barry Davis said.
Raised in a suburb of Detroit, the brothers have always been
close, Barry Davis said. Before they learned to work with glass,
they owned a vending business in Arizona. After a few years
apprenticeship with internationally-known glass artist Chris
Hawthorn, a high school friend of theirs, Barry Davis moved
back to the area in 1999, opening a studio on the farm that
has been in the Davis family for more than 150 years. Scott
Davis followed a year later. Their mother, Polly Davis, lives
in the house on the farm that she and her husband, Gene, built
in 1987 after Gene retired (Gene died in 1994).
The name, Neptune Hot Glass, came naturally to them. It’s
a play on words, their tiny hometown’s name linked to
the aquatic flavor of their work — Scott Davis’
signature piece is an octopus floating forever in a pool of
glass; Barry Davis calls his larger pieces “lagoons.”
But no one can think it’s easy to produce glass art on
a farm in Center Township, never mind the heat and the other
hazards of the work.
“Everything we use here has to come from somewhere else,”
Scott Davis said, from the colored ground glass to the precious
metal to the propane-fired glory hole to the $18,000 furnace
that melts the clear glass.
When the pieces are finished, they must be cooled gradually
in the annealer, a computerized box that lowers the temperature
of the artwork slowly so that it doesn’t break from the
stress of cooling in the fall air. Then they are ready for transport,
either to the local stores that sell the pieces (Ashley Art
and Framing in Celina, Artspace Lima in downtown Lima and Wassenberg
Art Center in Van Wert), or, more commonly, to the nearly 30
shows that the brothers attend each year in Chicago, Manhattan,
Cincinnati, Detroit and other cities.
“For each show we do, we have to send out slides of our
work and slides of our finished booth. If they like what they
see, they’ll allow you to pay them to set up our tent
and sell our wares,” Barry Davis said.
The pieces are packaged for shipping and sale in velvet bags
lovingly sewn by Polly Davis.
“It’s hard to find good velvet,” Barry Davis
said. “Once, I bought the curtains out of an old theater,
and we made bags out of those.”
Sometimes it seems to the brothers that their life really revolves
around that big furnace, which takes days to reach its peak
level, and which eats glass faster than Scott Davis’ 110-pound
Rotweiler Sheba, who guards the premises. When the furnace is
fired up, the brothers are at work, up to 10 hours a day, facing
the blistering heat of the furnace and the glory hole, or hunched
for hours over the diamond-blade grinder that puts the final
polish on the glass.
Yet, they said, they are producing what they love on the old
farm, rows of luminous glass, the heart of which holds a small
piece of their imagination.
“It seems like a lot of work, and it is,” Scott
Davis said. “But every day is something new for us —
and no two pieces are ever the same.”