Art

A Glassblower’s Tale

A Providence artist with an indomitable spirit

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On the corner of East Street and Wickenden, bathed in soft light behind a large window, dozens of glass miniature ocean waves sit frozen in time on a display. Their tips are crested white, bodies curved in typical wave fashion, as if any second they may burst to life and rush water across the display. The blue refracted light beneath each wave’s translucent body reinforces this imagery, and it’s captivating to stare at such energy and imagery captured within the fragile form of glass.

These waves are only one of the many glass pieces on display at Gallery Belleau, owned and operated by Chris Belleau, professional glassblower. His other glass pieces include pumpkins so thin they glow orange in any light, oversized flowers, vases, paperweights and even sun-catchers featuring Santa’s face. No matter the piece, though, each one grabs and holds an onlooker’s attention, because each one is instilled with Belleau’s passion for blowing glass. Other pieces on display at his gallery from local artists include metal sculptures, various works in clay, drinking vessels, platters and glass sea shells.

Like many artists, Belleau’s journey to discover his art resulted from a mixture of luck and curiosity. At the age of thirteen, Belleau apprenticed for a potter, getting his first true introduction into the arts. “That was a big break, because it got me in the right direction,” he says. “I got to the point where I could do a lot of things with clay. Then I went to a show; I was 15 years old and I saw a red wine glass. I knew that I could make it out of clay, but how could I make it out of glass? It became a burning question.” This led him to attend University of Wisconsin-Madison, which, Belleau admits with a laugh, he only did so that he could try glass blowing.

Belleau quickly learned that glass blowing is “definitely not a forgiving thing,” but his fascination with the art’s chemical reactions and volatile processes forced him to stick with it. Fast-forward to today, Belleau has been blowing glass for 25 years in Providence, and he absolutely loves the life he has carved out of the Ocean State’s capitol.

“My five-year-old daughter goes to Vartan,” says Belleau. “I have a box in the local community garden. I feel so connected here. That’s my favorite thing about having this gallery – being connected to the community.”

Unfortunately, a large piece of this connection is about to come to an end. “I’m losing the studio,” says Belleau. “I’ve been moving into my studio for 25 years and now I have to move out. The landlord wants his space back.”

When a glassblower has to move studios, it’s not like a writer moving coffee shops or even a painter changing spaces. Glass blowing requires three separate furnaces, one of which must reach the required 2,400-Fahrenheit temperature that can transform raw materials into glass. Moving this kind of monster is not like moving a couch – it requires city permits, safety equipment and all kinds of red tape.

“When I shut down, I won’t be able to blow glass again for months and months and months,” says Belleau. He walks around the gallery, point- ing out pieces that he “should take home and not sell.” These pieces are part of his life and they represent more than time spent sweating in front of a furnace: they’re the physical embodiment of his passion, reminders of what he has created and what he may not again create for an undetermined amount of time. For artists, the inability to create may be worse than death.

Then Belleau moves to the display of frozen waves, picking up a deep seafoam green one and holding it up to the light. He stares into its translucent body and says, “When I shut down, yeah...” and leaves the sentences unfinished.

While his studio will be temporar- ily shut down Gallery Bealleau will remain open as usual. Stop in for truly one-of-a-kind gifts.

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