For glass artist Lynn Everett Read, embarking on production work was a pragmatic decision. He built his own glass studio, Vitreluxe, in the early 2000s, so he had access to all the space and equipment he might need. And by making more objects, and crossing the line between pure craft and design, he bet the studio would come to support him, rather than vice versa. He was right. What he didn’t expect was that the production process would be such a catalyst to creativity.
Vitreluxe is located in the Sellwood neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. Running along a curve of the Willamette River, it’s a dense, dynamic area known for antique shops, restaurants, and cafés. The buzz of activity within Read’s hot shop belies its unassuming exterior – something that could be said of Read himself, who, with a quiet, steady demeanor, has produced a remarkable range of glass work. (The studio also includes a cold shop.)
Read combines complex techniques with familiar forms to create a look that is refined but fresh. The Ellipse Incalmo series employs the incalmo method, aptly enough, which requires each color to be blown separately before being fused together. In order to fit properly, the weight, size, and thickness of each segment must match – no easy feat. As a small, nimble operation, the team at Vitreluxe can funnel their energies into limited but repeatable runs of such technically difficult objects.
The design community has taken notice: Wallpaper* magazine just named Vitreluxe’s Tube Tops series the “Best Vases” in its 2012 design awards. A perfect example of how the production process can promote rather than constrain innovation, the Tube Tops were originally designed with transparent tops and bottoms marked by a shift in the color of the neck.
But after standardizing the scale of the pieces and fashioning multiples to refine the palette, Read says, “I found I could actually have more options, because I’d prepared more colors.” The final vessels mix opaque glass necks with transparent glass bodies, a tacit recognition of the separate elements of the form and a combination that enhances the tones in each piece.
Effective innovation requires a strong design sensibility as a base, and that’s equally evident in the series. Read’s distinctive eye for color and composition comes out of his background as a painter and theater set designer. In a grouping of Tube Tops, the tonal variation from piece to piece creates subtle overlays – tertiary colors – visible as the vessels are seen from different angles, engaging the viewer and rewarding those who observe closely.
Vitreluxe’s eponymous production line is available across the United States and abroad, from OK Store in Los Angeles to Vessel Gallery in London, as well as many museum gift stores and the gallery at Portland’s Museum of Contemporary Craft.
“I feel I’m really fortunate because I’ve never been lost,” Read says. “I’ve never struggled with ‘What should I do?’ Since high school I’ve been motivated to just work.”
Carolyn Hazel Drake is a ceramist and art teacher in Portland, Oregon.