Retired U.S. Marine Dave Lee loves a good challenge, and he seems to have found one in working with handblown glass processes that go back millennia.
“Blown glass is an urgent medium. It is high adrenaline. Once you start you have to finish. Unlike other art forms where you can walk away and come back later to continue, with glass you can’t do that,” Dave says.
Molten glass, in particular, has a mind of its own.
“The artist can only hope to control the glass enough to get the vision to come to fruition,” he adds. “With blown glass, the artist competes with many factors that work against the glassblower, such as temperature, gravity and centrifugal force.”
Dave’s interest in blown glass began when he and his son, Bryan, took a glassblowing class together. They met Eli Zilke, a studio tech and instructor who had been blowing glass for more than a decade. Not long after, the Lees and Zilke opened Hot Shop Valpo.
“We have seen great things over the years in northwest Indiana in terms of progress and growth, and we wanted to plant a seed from which a vibrant arts scene might grow,” Dave says.
“With our work, every piece is an original. No two can ever be the same or reproduced,” he adds. “The three artists each have different creative styles and tastes, and we have found the combination makes for a great collaborative environment that gives us a unique flair.”
Hot Shop Valpo’s work ranges from the organic to more organized traditional styles, and Dave says the trio enjoys experimenting and pushing the boundaries of tradition.
Beyond their statement pieces, the trio creates small, affordable glasswork such as paperweights, pumpkins and acorns, as well as functional glass such as Venetian goblets, mugs and drinkware.
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