Stunning Hand-Blown Glass Pieces Made on Martha’s Vineyard by One of its Own

By Diane Alter

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Russell separates the punty from a finished piece of glass that will soon go into the cooling oven

The ancient art of glassblowing is a fascinating process. Invented thousands of years ago in Syria, with the oldest known account of the craft dating back to the 1st century B.C., its provenance began when Phoenician merchants discovered that mixing sand with melted nitrate blocks (normally used for cooking) would result in a viscous compound that, when cooled, would create glass. The art of making glass is a complex and dangerous craft with the process involving a great deal of equipment and mastered skill to ensure the process, from start to finish, is successful and pleasing both integrally and aesthetically

Fast forward to present day, to Blackwater Farm in West Tisbury– It’s August on Martha’s Vineyard, and it’s hot …really hot. We aren’t speaking of the weather, but rather the temperature inside the small studio of island-based glassblower, Russell Carson who, seemingly impervious to the heat emanating from the furnace, can be found shaping and molding what will soon become a delicate, functional, and displayable work of art.

The glass he uses is either waste glass from other glass studios or glass from things like discarded beer bottles. The recycled glass is melted in a 1900 degree furnace. “A small amount of glass is then gathered on the end of a steel blowpipe,” Russell explains. “It is similar to gathering honey on the end of a honey dipper. Color is immediately applied by rolling in crushed colored glass which sticks like sprinkles on an ice cream cone. The crushed colored glass ranges in size from the consistency of fine sand or small pebbles, depending on what we are making.”

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Color is applied to the rim of the glass with help from an assistant

Russell continued, a bubble is blown into the glass and the glass is inflated to the desired shape. The bottom is flattened, and the piece is transferred to a solid steel rod with a small bit of glass at the end, called a punty. Then, the top of the glass can be reheated, opened and finished.

Watching Russell create his signature delicate pieces of glass and listening to him explain the process of how he does what he does, is awe-inspiring. Thoroughly engaging with a soothing voice and easygoing aura, 38-year-old Russell got his start in the craft quite accidentally. Introduced to a glass blower in 2003, he decided to give it a try.

“I did not like anything about it the first time I gave it a go,” Russell shared. “In fact, I burned my left hand terribly. It was a year before a tried it again. In 2005, I moved to the Vineyard from Roxbury, Connecticut with my partner, Maura Martin, and accepted a job at Martha’s Vineyard Glass.” A skilled and accomplished glassblower today, Carson humbly adds that, some 13 years later, he has not perfected the art.

“I begin each day by holding glass to get my hands moving,” Russell told Dressed MV. “What I do is not terribly taxing on the body, but I am in constant motion all day long. If I ease into work it not only helps me to get into the groove, it also loosens my hands and massages my mind.”

To get into this groove, the right music is essential, and for Russell this usually includes disco and house (electronic). These music genres employ the beat of the “four on the floor,” where the bass drum hits every fourth note.

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“This type of music encourages timing and efficiency,” Russell said. “My friend Oliver Doriss, also a glass blower, described it best when he said, if you want people to work like a machine, put on music made by a machine.” with the key being to feel the pulse of the music while trying not to pause between pieces. “Efficiency is important because it allows me to keep the costs down so items can be priced within reach for the vast majority of people,” Russell states. “I price most pieces so that the average person can splurge on my hand-blown tumblers, small vases or bowls.”

Imbuing and combining his inspirations from nature, the human form, and fine art, Russell’s pieces are far from generic or mass produced, both in appearance and quality. They are clean, clear, thoughtful and delicate, with his style identifiable when among glass works by his fellow artists. His glass collections are simply beautiful, including his hexagonal tumblers blown and colored in the prettiest shades of pastels.

When not in the studio, Russell helps teach a Venetian glass blowing class in Italy with his friend Oliver, who is also a teaching assistant.


Colorful glass pumpkins are perfect for displaying this Fall

“I have been helping one of the maestros, Davide Fuin, from Murano for the last seven years or so whenever he has been teaching workshops,” Russell shared. “Davide is regarded as one of the best in his field, which is stemware and historical reproductions. He is a true master in the most delicate and intricate works in glass. Davide used to come to the United States and hold workshops in Corning, NY and Boston, but for the past three summers he has held the classes at his own studio on Murano. Murano glass is difficult to explain, but the way the glass is worked here in America is very different than in Italy. Lots of equipment and techniques are involved.

Russel said that everything he does in terms of technique and approach to materials stem from what he learned from Davide. “I really don’t know where I would be without him. I don’t just happen to be good at what I do. I have been fortunate enough to work alongside one of the best in the world. While it is only a few weeks a year, it still makes all the difference.”

When looking toward the future, Russell aims to have his own space and equipment. But, for now, his goal is to make sure your glass is always half full, and made by Russell Carson.

Russell and Maura currently live in Vineyard Haven with their 7-year-old son Leo. Items made by Russell Carson Handcrafted Glass can be purchased at Morrice Florist in Vineyard Haven and The Carnegie in Edgartown. For online purchases visit Select custom orders are accepted.

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