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Artistic impressions

Photo by Michael Cornelison
Photos by Michael Cornelison

Glassmaker creates stunning pieces of art

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By Lori Quiller

Perched atop a mountain overlooking Little River Canyon National Preserve and nestled between a thicket of trees and a pond is an unassuming cabin hiding some of Alabama’s most beautiful handcrafted artwork.

Art not borne of pastel-colored paints or carved from stone or etched from steel. The art in this cabin is borne of fire. This art is handmade glassware with clean lines and vibrant colors, some small and some large, all stunning in their perfection.

Master glass artist Cal Breed and his wife, Christy, formally opened Orbix Hot Glass in 2002, but it wasn’t an easy task. Breed, who studied marine biology at Auburn University, became interested in glasswork while still in college after seeing an old photo of stained glass being made. It intrigued him so much that he decided to take a class in the art of stained glass.

“I was fortunate to find Cam Langley in Birmingham, who showed me just how beautiful glasswork can be,” Breed says. “He was a great mentor and friend, and I was able to learn so much from him.” Langley passed away in 2013, but his friendship with Breed and influence can been seen threading through some of the experimental pieces in the Orbix Hot Glass showroom.

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Glass is a unique substance as a medium for art, Breed says. While it’s not the easiest substance to use, that’s the main reason why he’s so drawn to it for his work.

“There’s something about glass,” Breed explained. “The transparency of it, the color. It changes when we work with it, and it changes the light when we look through it. It has a tremendous texture that you only realize after you’ve been working with it for a while. And, you have to work quickly. There’s an amazing amount of concentration that you find yourself in when you’re working with glass. You really get focused on what this object is, or is going to be, when you’re working with hot glass. The question is whether it turns out the way I want it to, or will it go in a different direction?”

Pieces can take from five minutes to a month or more to complete, which is a good reason why Breed has extra hands to help in the studio. Artists Eric Harper and Mark Leputa and student Lori Cummings join Breed in making the Orbix masterpieces.

Each masterpiece begins with a bulb of molten glass on the end of a hollow iron tube. The tip is quickly placed into a furnace in which the temperature averages 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The glass bulb is brought out, and air is blown into the tube. Within seconds, a small bubble can be seen inside the bulb on the other end of the tube, and then it goes back into the furnace. The process is repeated over and over, adding a few flourishes, depending on what the project is going to be. One thing never wavers — the glass never stops moving until the piece is finished.

Drawing inspiration from nature

As with all handcrafted art, no two pieces are alike. Breed draws his inspiration from nature around him, and he and his wife truly believe their piece of heaven lies atop Lookout Mountain. Mountain life affords him the time to spend with his family to rock climb, kayak or hike — all experiences he cherishes and ideas he can bring back to the hot shop, like the time he decided to drop hot glass down a hole to see what would come up. The piece is in the front gallery, and it’s jaw dropping!

Orbix Hot Glass has had visitors from as near as Birmingham and as far away as France, as well as pieces featured in magazines, including Southern Living and O: The Oprah Magazine. Breed recently finished a gallery show in Huntsville, and although he doesn’t have a show planned for 2015, he’s not ruling one out. He’s a regular participant in Southern Makers, an annual gathering of statewide creative artists in Montgomery.

“There have been some pieces that I’ve made and held onto for a while,” Breed says. “Some are harder to let go of than others. But, there’s a lot of craft that goes into these pieces, so I truly enjoy doing those pieces that I know will give joy to someone else. I can see that here in the gallery when someone looks at a piece for a really long time, and then takes it home. You can just see something in a person when a piece catches hold. There’s happiness there, and I’m glad to be able to do that for someone.”

Check out Cal Breed and Orbix Hot Glass online at www.calbreed.com or www.orbixhotglass.com.