Three furnaces blaze in Atlantic Art Glass studio, reaching temperatures that exceed 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot air drifts from their fiery bellies, gliding through an open window to greet the chilly February morning. The meeting of hot air and cold makes the snowy scene outside shimmer.
Linda Perrin, Ken Perrin and Derrick Sekulich move fluidly throughout the space. Ken Perrin begins at one furnace, dipping a blowpipe into a crucible of molten glass, gathering it like honey on a dipper.
Collectively, they begin the dance that is glass blowing.
The blowpipe goes from hand to hand, back and forth, from furnace to marver to bench. It’s dipped in colorful pieces of glass, heated and blown. It’s spun and swung throughout the space.
“It’s like ballet at a rock concert,” Sekulich says, his voice raised slightly to overpower the roar of the furnaces.
The fiery molten gathering starts shapelessly, a pliable mass of glowing glass flowing around the end of the blowpipe, but after visits to the furnace, the marver — a thick flat sheet of steel — and the bench where Linda Perrin sits, it begins to take on new life.
“This is something we kind of innovated,” Linda says as Ken rolls the molten glass on copper leaf laid out on the marver. The copper will create a blue-green color, but for now, it blackens and melts into the ball of glass. He puts it into the furnace again, then passes it over to Linda Perrin once more.
Linda Perrin’s fingertips glide over the blowpipe, delicately spinning it to shape the glass and prevent it from dripping from the rod. After the glass hardens slightly, the blowpipe is passed back to Ken Perrin, who heats it again in another furnace. He blows into the end of the blowpipe after removing it, his cheeks inflating like a puffer fish, the glass expanding ever so slightly, then brings it back to Linda Perrin.
She uses an entire table filled with primitive-looking tools, from wet wooden paddles, giant shears, a butter knife, even a wad of wet newspaper, which helps shape the piece into a smooth oval. The newspaper sizzles and pops, catching fire momentarily and sending the smell of burning paper into the air.
Heat flows from the blaze orange mass, blowing Linda Perrin’s hair back and turning her face pink.
Finally, nearly an hour after they began, it is taken to its final resting place in the third furnace, called an annealer, where it will slowly cool.
“Glass is very fast. It’s moving quickly when it’s hot. You have to finish it. You can’t put it on a shelf and come back to it later, because you need it to be on fire when you’re making it,” Linda Perrin said.
The finished product is a glass fish, painstakingly crafted by hand. Atlantic Art Glass studio is filled with pieces like this, each made by the Perrins and their assistant, Derrick Sekulich. Vases, bowls and paperweights line shelves on the walls and jewelry hangs from nearly every available surface. They range in color from fluid, ocean-like blues and greens to deep reds and purples.
Linda Perrin’s specialties are sculptural vases and jewelry made of blown glass beads, which involves a complex process requiring the Perrins to pull glass nearly 30 feet across the studio. Ken Perrin’s signature works are pieces inspired by the Maine coast. Each piece is crafted entirely by hand and completely unique
“There was something about that process that really drew me in. I liked it because it’s very fluid, but it’s also fire. So it seemed like there was a balance,” Linda Perrin said.
Linda and Ken Perrin met at City College of San Francisco, California. Ken was studying photography, and Linda was dabbling in different artforms. She decided to take a glass blowing class, and her love for the artform blossomed from there.
“She took the glass blowing class and immediately got hooked,” Ken Perrin said with a smile.
“I had been a furniture maker, a photographer, a fiber artist — I had done other things. But once I hit glass, I got offered a full-time job doing it. … It was the confluence of loving the process and getting that professional opportunity,” Linda Perrin said.
The Perrins’ first shop was a tiny space in Hulls Cove, which they opened in 1997. After eight years, demand for their unique work led them to relocate to 25 Pine St. in Ellsworth, where they reside in a converted warehouse with plenty of space for their work. Their new shop is accessible to the public and has items for sale throughout. The three also teach classes, which is how Sekulich got his start.
“Before, when we were in Hulls Cove, we were focused on developing our own work and getting it recognized and out there in the world. … When we got this place we realized we could open our process to the public,” Linda Perrin said.
But the Perrins haven’t stopped at just glass.
Artsworth Studios, a nonprofit arts organization, also was founded by the Perrins. Art instruction, exhibitions and special events are offered to the community, providing opportunities to explore the arts. Training in glass blowing, blacksmithing, jewelry making, fiber arts and more are offered in the Perrins’ warehouse space, bringing the community together to learn about artforms such as glass blowing. The Perrins also are part owners and managers of Island Artisans in Bar Harbor, a shop dedicated to showing Maine arts and crafts.
Engaging the community is important to the Perrins, who offer beginner glass blowing classes and are offering a workshop called “Heart of Glass,” which allows participants to transform molten glass into a small heart-shaped paperweight.
As full-time artists, the Perrins are able to create something new every day. The art of glass blowing begins with the basics, but from there, it’s all about creativity.
“It’s kind of like music,” Linda Perrin said. “With music you learn to play the instrument and the learn the songs, but with glass you learn to play the instrument and then you make the songs.”