Glass act: Family fuses fun with creations

July 20, 2010 | Arts, UToday
By Josh Martin

Bob and Deb Less prepared glass pieces for the kiln in their studio in Holland, Ohio.

Bob and Deb Less prepared glass pieces for the kiln in their studio in Holland, Ohio.

Imagine a decorative, circular plate of clear glass bearing shards of purple, green and yellow arranged to represent an iris flower. Picture a similar clear plate, circumscribed by emerald and navy glass fragments that surround a dragonfly. Or envision a warped wine bottle, its glass sides flattened together and curved to form a basin.

These are some of the pieces Bob and Deb Less may bring to Art on the Mall.

The glass fusion artists who are business owners by trade will be in booth 87 on Centennial Mall Sunday, July 25, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with their daughter, Beth Ann, 15, who attends St. Ursula Academy.

“Making and selling glass fusion pieces is what we do for fun, but we do make a little money at it,” Bob said.

Glass fusion involves using a kiln to melt flat glass pieces in different colors and shapes into a single item. From design to finish, the process can take anywhere from 19 to 37 hours. Kiln firings take 16 hours, and certain pieces demand two sessions.

Daughter Beth Ann Less worked on a project.

Daughter Beth Ann Less worked on a project.

Bob and Deb own a real estate investment company, but they began shutting it down a few years ago. Bob is also a certified public accountant. Both grew up in Toledo and are graduates of UT; Deb received a bachelor’s degree in business administration and an MBA in 1982 and 1984, respectively, and Bob earned an MBA in 1986. From 1983 to 1997, Deb worked at the Medical College of Ohio, where her titles over the years included assistant hospital director, associate hospital director, acting medical chief operator and chief operating officer.

The couple’s artistic forays into glass fusion began a year and a half ago with another hobby: wine-tasting. They were drawn to melting wine bottles to make trays and other pieces, but soon expanded the craft.

“You can’t buy a kiln to melt a few wine bottles, and it is difficult to find a local kiln for rent that is made for compatible glass, so we decided that we needed to do a bit more with the kiln,” Deb said.

Both Deb and Bob had taken glass fusion lessons at the Toledo Museum of Art, and Beth Ann has learned largely from trial and error as well as from listening to and watching her parents.

Due to their backgrounds in business, Deb and Bob say they don’t feel burdened by managing the commercial side of their artistic hobby, as other artists might. Deb manages their home studio’s inventory, and Bob deals with the taxes as well as pricing the pieces.

For Art on the Mall, the family said they will feature a number of pieces for under $25. They plan on bringing approximately $4,000 to $5,000’s worth of items and hope to sell about 20 percent of those.

They used to make bigger pieces, but because of the troubled economy, they started focusing on smaller and less expensive works. They subsequently sold a high volume, gained a bigger patron following, increased custom order requests, and were able to interact with more people, which they enjoy.

“We like to make the small pieces useful,” Deb said. “What sets our art apart from other artists’ work at shows is that we make art you can use, such as coasters, cutting boards, something to hang in the garden, bowls and soap dishes. They don’t just have aesthetic appeal.”

The family also will feature garden art, including wind chimes, bird baths and other pieces appropriate for the summer season. Many works will be decorated with outdoor, natural objects.

When asked why they like glass fusion as an artistic medium, Deb answered that glass in whatever shape or state is visually appealing. The trio also noted that glass is easy to “repurpose.” If one use of it doesn’t turn out well, they said it can be melted and used again.

After receiving the good news in late May of their acceptance for UT’s juried art fair, the family is in an excited “production mode” to make enough pieces by July 25.

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