Visiting Barrio Glassworks in Carlsbad poses a risk, but not from the 2,125-degree furnace that keeps 300 pounds of melted glass molten at the heart of the open-air studio, gallery and shop.
It might come as you watch, mesmerized, from the observation area, while artists blow, stretch and coax that molten material into, say, an undulation of gray glass inspired by stacked stones at the beach, or a large bowl the color of tea speckled with white.
It might come in the form of temptation in the gallery and shop, where you can purchase speckled bowls crafted by Taryn Jayne, glass butterflies by Nic McGuire, and glass sculptures by visiting resident artist Steven Ciezki — including that gray glass, which now sits atop an egg-shaped, lipstick-red vessel. (The butterflies so captivated one patron that he started with one, but now has a flight of them displayed on his condo wall.)
Barrio Glassworks, a public glassblowing studio and retail gallery located in the historic Barrio community of Carlsbad Village, started by Mary Devlin, Gary Raskin and their son Drew Raskin, a glassblower.
The risk, too, may come as you make your own paperweight, as Barrio Glassworks staff members guide you to twist, pinch and poke color-flecked glass with long, pointy-tipped tongs (which they call tweezers) as the glass cools from the consistency of honey to taffy to rock candy.
It’s an experience, I discovered firsthand, that’s as intoxicating as it is difficult. It also gave me the most satisfactory thwack of my life when I hit the long rod that held my paperweight (called a punty rod) with a wooden dowel and the glass came off perfectly, unshattered and still glowing like a baseball-size Earth on fire.
The risk of all that mesmerization, temptation and intoxication is this: being bitten by the glass-blowing bug.
That bite is the genesis of Barrio Glassworks, which Mary Devlin and Gary Raskin opened in December 2020 with their son, Drew Raskin, in the Barrio, Carlsbad’s oldest residential neighborhood.
First bitten was Drew, when their family visited famed glass blowers in Murano, Italy, 10 years ago. Still in high school, he came home and took glass-blowing classes in Seattle.
“It was one of those moments as a parent when you get to watch the magic happen. …” said Devlin. “And along the way, I got bit by it.”
Soon the family started talking about opening their own glass studio, as she and Gary were nearing the end of their careers (she as an HBO lawyer, he as founder of Colors by Design greeting card and stationery company) and Drew was finishing college at California College of the Arts in Oakland.
“I talked to enough people who said if you really want to do it, it has to be this model,” said Devlin. “You have to be all things to all people. You have to have a make-your-own component. You have to have rentals for other artists, and you have to have a gallery with price points from $25 to $10,000.”
The couple, then living in Los Angeles, eventually found a spot in Carlsbad Village to create that model. Barrio Glassworks features a hotshop with viewing section where a roster of artists like Jayne come weekly to craft their glass, as well as a shop that includes glass sculptures for home and garden and one-of-a-kind glassware. It also houses a gallery that showcases works by internationally known artists like Ciezki, Kazuki Takizawa and Nao Yamamoto (featured in the Netflix series “Blown Away,” which has been described as “The Great British Baking Show” for glass blowing.)
The website, barrioglassworks.com, includes the schedule of artists for the week and the online signup for make-your-own paperweight sessions.
Last month, a woman came for one session, then signed up for three more, back to back. While Devlin knows not everyone who visits will get bit like that, she does hope the experience will enhance their appreciation for the complexity of the craft and the versatility of glass.
Asked what a visit might offer designers, architects or those decorating their homes, she said, “One, it sort of reassures them about what they just had to pay for glass.”
She added that it also gives them the opportunity to commission pieces from the artists and see the new ways glass is being used in the garden, as sculpture, and as art for the wall, such as the glass panels Ciezki is exhibiting now.
Ciezki explained the many steps it takes to make the panels: “It starts with a (glass) cylinder. And then I’ll cut that cylinder in half. And then we’ll put that rounded side on a kiln shelf, and then heat up to kiln to about 1,300 degrees. And that’ll slowly flatten out. And after it cools down, we have this canvas, this glass canvas.”
His wife has her pilot’s license, which inspired the panel “Sky Hawk.” “It’s this small little Cessna sandblasted and painted on this large faded blue panel. And then a mountain range on the bottom, with this bright red line outlining the line of the mountain, a retinal vibration to draw your eye across the mountain.”
The couple splits their time between Phoenix, where they’re building a midcentury-modern home and studio, and Carlsbad, which inspired his “Meditation” series. “The kind of stacked stone series where there’s kind of a cylindrical base with stack stones on top, which was inspired by a walk on the beach where the walkway had washed away. There was a wooden stump and on it, someone had stacked stones.”
He finds glass blowing to be meditative, “just like that process of stone stacking, rock balancing.”
He also likes the teamwork involved, especially on larger projects that require an assistant. “It’s very much like a sport in that way, like a team sport.”
Jayne, who worked with her glass-blowing partner Logan Nash Groupé on the tea-colored bowl, agrees. “We really know what the other person needs and how they work.”
Groupé said he especially likes the way glass and light go hand-in-hand. “I personally like a lot of home decor like barware and kitchen sets, things that can be appreciated in the home, especially in a well-lit room. The shadows of glass and color on the wall.”
For Jayne, she thinks about color before she thinks about the type of glasswork she’ll make. “I’m primarily drawn by color and pattern, and then I will think about the form that would display it best.”
One of the challenges for glass artists like Jayne is color. The only time she sees the true color is when she adds powdered or bits of colored glass to the clear melted glass. After it’s heated up to be blown or shaped, it’s the color of fire, and she must rely on her expertise and imagination to work the glass to the color and pattern she envisions.
Jayne drives from San Diego twice a week to work at Barrio Glassworks, in large part because of Devlin’s mission to open glass blowing to underrepresented artists, especially women. “One major reason why I love the studio so much is Mary. She’s an amazing, amazing woman, a force to be reckoned with. And her ideas to involve the community to build up artists, to showcase artists, just to promote women in glass.”
Devlin’s vision attracts glass blowers who already have their own studios, but are drawn to the sense of community Barrio Glassworks provides.
Rina Fehrensen, who works out of her Mad Art Studios in Vista with Michael Maddy, sells some of their brightly colored, whimsical glass pieces at Barrio Glassworks. Like Drew, she got bit in Murano and came back to San Diego, wondering, “Where can I learn to do this?”
Like many at Barrio Glassworks, she started at the renowned Palomar College glass-blowing program. Fehrensen sees the Carlsbad studio as another opportunity for glass-blowing students and the community at large.
“It’s so fantastic. I can’t even tell you how excited I was when I heard this place was opening up,” she said. “It’s a glass blower’s dream come true for San Diego to have a place like this here.”
Sophy Chaffee is a freelance writer based in Encinitas.