No medium’s properties are quite so dichotomous as those of glass. It is harder than stone in many cases, and so enduring that wine glasses made by the Romans have survived intact to this day. At the same time its fragility puts it at perpetual odds with gravity, and any hard surface around it could spell glass’s instant doom. In a sense, glass is representative of humanity’s will to create as a whole. Here we are, spinning around through space, creating marvel after marvel, when at any moment some indifferent cosmic missile could transform our entire experiment to soot.
Glass has few stronger proponents than Fargo’s own Jon Offutt, who in his studio House of Mulciber heats, blows, and spins the material into truly beautiful things. “I spent my time in high school sculpting clay, but I was drawn to glassblowing shortly thereafter,” explained Jon. “Glass is like clay for its malleability, and working in the vessel form is always intriguing because it causes you to look for ways to bend its rules however you can. Where glass best outshines clay, however, is that in working with it you get to play with fire.
“Humans are naturally attracted to flames,” Jon continued, “But we’re also inherently cautious around them. That constant push-pull in the creative process influences my thinking in unpredictable ways.”
Working by a furnace heated to 2,100 degrees all day long is not as perilous as you might think, provided you take the right precautions. “One of a glassblower’s most valuable pieces of equipment are his leather shoes,” Jon explained. “A misplaced strand of molten glass across your toes is a major issue if you are wearing sneakers. It would melt right through and become a part of your foot in an instant.
“Because glass has to be so hot when you work with it, I think of the process as an hour of making right decisions in a row. There is no going back to resolve something once a mistake has been made. If you’re dissatisfied with any part of a piece, the only option is to try making it again from scratch. But the beauty in that is that you get to see every decision you make reflected immediately in your work. Every feature, every color in a piece of glass is the result of a rapid-fire thought process. Glassblowing feels as though you’re breathing life into something.”
Much of Jon’s work is heavily influenced by North Dakota’s natural beauty. His landscape pieces bring the rollicking prairies instantly to mind, with verdant flats and cornflower skies laced by wispy stratocumuli. Other pieces from his collection make use of bold reds and yellows, evocative of the same fires that they were forged in. His more whimsical work births fish that seem as though they’re made of ribbon candy, along with other Wonka-esque constructs. The artist’s imagination makes use of glass in ways I hadn’t thought possible before.
Jon spends half of his year on the road selling, traveling to art shows and festivals throughout the Midwest to find homes for his pieces. (For this reason, packaging is another of his fields of profound expertise.) He won’t stray too far from home, however, lest he miss time with his wife, daughter, and dogs.
You may see Jon’s work in person at Dakota Fine Art, a collective gallery at 11 8th St S in Fargo. There his creations sit alongside the work of eight of the city’s other fine artists, a testament to Fargo’s creativity and eye for beauty.
By David Scheller