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The Daily



12-03-03: An Ocean in Glass

Standard Correspondent

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 work.
“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.”


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