( Column 9 / 2002)

"The Lost Valleys"...by...Ron Gladkowski

          "A commentary about creative people living in the small communities scattered through the hills and valleys of Central New York"
          Published in The County Review

"Dancing with Fire"

          Independent artists work hard, yet one of the perks that come with making a living as a creative person is that we can set our own schedule. This often allows us to combine business travel with pleasure, which , in turn, can open a door of creative opportunity
          When I received three large terrarium commissions, one each from Maryland, South Carolina, and Georgia, I decided to exercise my option. Rather than pack and ship the orders via motor freight, I decided to head south for a late winter vacation, and make the deliveries myself. I made plans to visit 5 artist friends along the way, and shoot video footage in their studios, for some yet to be defined production. It was fun to see old friends, especially a few that I hadn't seen for years, and expand my new interest in documenting creative people on video.
          One visit held a particular fascination for me.... I work with glass, and know it as hard and brittle, yet in truth it is a very fluid substance. My last stop of the trip was in Florida at the studio of glass blower Larry Roff, and my view of glass will never be the same again. I came away with a better understanding and appreciation of all the subtleties of this substance, which I have been working with for over 30 years.
          Watching Larry take honey like molten glass, and manipulate, shape, mold, and inflate it into wonderful shapes, made me feel a little jealous. "How dare he have so much fun, while I have deal with flat sheets, and sharp edges?", I thought. Yet, when he offered to let me try it, I declined. Like watching a magician, it was awesome, fascinating, and entertaining, but I didn't want to be one. It was enough to enjoy the performance.
          He was dancing with fire...His partner in this performance that would create a permanent record of each tour of the dance floor. Each piece a testimony to his ability to find a precise balance between temperature, and timing. Knowing how much, how hot, and for how long to work the glass before returning to the fire is a skill that only comes with experience. Back and forth they go in this sensual tango, flirting on the edge of destruction with each close embrace. The fire wants to reclaim it's property, while Larry needs the fire to coax the glass to cooperate. The outcome depends on both of them
          Fire isn't the only force of nature that Larry harnesses in his work. Gravity is one of his most important tools. Constantly needing to be attentive to its effect on the semi fluid glass, he must work with it to give form and symmetry to the finished piece. As gravity pulls down on the glass, Larry keeps the piece rotating, using centrifugal force as an assistant, while working with an assortment of tools to form the curves that define the size and shape. Whether it will be a vase, bowl, flower, or ornament, the same attention will be paid to the forces that bring about it's creation.
          Larry is originally from Chemung County and the seeds for glass blowing were planted in him at a very young age on a visit to Corning Glass Center. He now lives in Florida, but returns to New York State to do art and craft shows every summer. You can make a note to see his award winning work at the Cooperstown Art and Craft Show, Cooperstown NY August 31st & September 1st, and Colorscape Chenango in Norwich, NY September 7th & 8th. There are more pictures, and information about Larry Roff's work and how to reach him on the web site at www.lostvalleys.com.

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