Nick Fruin uses a long iron tool, a very long iron tool, to extract dripping glass from below the white hot “glass line.”
“Do you ever get burned?” a visitor asks. Not much anymore, young Fruin deadpans.
Experience is apparently a very good teacher.
Fruin is only 23, but he has mastered an art essentially unchanged for 1,300 years — since the time of the ancient Romans. He makes glass. Not the mass-produced stuff of big-box department stores, but actual blown glass goblets and objets d’art, much of it in his self-described “playful” style.
The non-profit Glass Lab has donated several items and a series of classes in glassblowing to the Oct. 3 Pottery Plus Auction. Participation in the FirstHealth Hospice Foundation fundraiser is, says Fruin, “a good way to get the word out” about the unusual enterprise, one of several “creative businesses” in Star’s innovative STARworks Center for Creative Enterprises.
The STARworks operation was featured in the July issue of “Our State” magazine with a story detailing the renaissance of a decaying, more than century-old building — originally the Carolina Collegiate and Agriculture Institute and later a textile mill — into a haven for small business entrepreneurs, artists, and local living and sustainability advocates. It is a project of Central Park NC, an eight-county sustainable economic development organization that includes Richmond County.
“We are interested in creating healthy, sustainable communities with diverse small businesses,” says Central Park NC Executive Director Nancy Gottovi.
“We think Hospice is an important part of any good, caring community, and so we’re delighted to be a part of the Pottery Plus Auction. It’s also a great way for not-for-profit organizations and their supporters to help each other during these tough economic times. We hope people get excited by the new glass artists in the region and support our efforts as well.”
STARworks Glass Lab shares space in the cavernous 187,000-square-foot building with businesses that include a geothermal heating operation, a local clay materials supplier and Wet Dog Glass, a maker of custom glassblowing equipment that relocated to Star after Hurricane Katrina disrupted life in its previous New Orleans location.
Other Glass Lab neighbors include Takuro Shibata and his wife, Hitomi Akebi Shibata of STARworks Ceramics. Takuro is director of the ceramics operation, and Hitomi is an instructor. Both are natives of Japan who have studied art in Japan and the U.S., and both will provide pottery pieces in support of this year’s Pottery Plus Auction
Community of glass artists
Nick Fruin serves as outreach coordinator for the Glass Lab operation. A native of Nebraska, he was drawn to the area by the international reputation of Wet Dog Glass for equipping major glass-making operations and its goal of attracting a new order of artisans to Sandhills Pottery Country.
“We’re trying to build a community of glass artists here,” Fruin says.
The fully operational glass studio opened in October 2008, and now offers introductory hot glass classes, weekend and shorter workshops, and live glassblowing demonstrations. Studio rentals are also available, according to promotional materials, to those “wanting to take their glassblowing experience to the next level.”
Like Fruin, professional glass artists from Kansas, Hawaii and New York now call the Star area home thanks to Glass Lab’s professional hospitality. Some of the area’s potters have also taken classes, and the Pottery Plus Auction’s 2009 Chairman’s Choice potter, Will McCanless, offers Glass Lab glass in his studio/gallery near Seagrove.
Fruin calls glassblowing “a new craft medium” for the area, but admits it’s not for the casual craftsman.
“It takes years and years of practice,” he says.
Fruin himself entered Nebraska’s Hastings College as a pole vaulter on a track and field scholarship but intent on majoring in art and taking as many art classes as possible. All it took was a class in glassblowing to seal his future.
His athletic scholarship was shifted to academics and art, and he earned a BFA in sculpture with an emphasis on glassblowing.
“That was it,” he says. “I blew glass all day long.”
In addition to his artist/management role with Glass Lab, Fruin is an award-winning glassblower whose work is featured in galleries in Ohio, Nebraska, Seattle and Chicago. His top showing among 300 entries in an international juried exhibition earned him a full scholarship to study in Istanbul, where an American contact led to a job with Wet Dog and eventually to his current role with Glass Lab.
And why this consuming interest in such an ancient art in such a young artist?
“It’s addictive,” Fruin says. “It’s so much fun.”
“Glass is the most quintessential material,” he adds. “There’s nothing else that really touches it.”
You can learn more about Central Park NC at www.starworksnc.org.
What: 14th Annual Pottery Plus Auction
When: Saturday, Oct. 3, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Where: Country Club of North Carolina, Pinehurst
Why: To benefit the FirstHealth Hospice Foundation, supporting the work of FirstHealth Hospice & Palliative Care and the construction of the new Hospice House. Featuring silent and live auctions, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Tickets are $50 per person.