Doug Frates = champ glass man
Glass. You know, that clear, breakable stuff that you usually drink water out of or look through while sitting at a desk and wishing you were on the other side? You see glass all the time; it is a pretty common and useful thing, nothing to be extra-ordinarily excited about, right?
Usually, yes. But, in this case, you could not be more wrong. Doug Frates Glass is far from banal. We have all seen decorative glass before, but his glasswork isn’t just a pretty Christmas ornament or coloured vase; it is inventively designed, colourful, and shaped in absolutely stunning ways.
Before spending his days working with molten glass and 1090ºC-plus furnaces, Frates was in the U.S. Marine Corps. Upon his return from an overseas tour, Frates enrolled in a variety of creative classes and became enthralled with glass blowing.
Like most things, you only need to start by taking a class before you change paths. Still, the career change from the military to glass blowing seems like an unusual leap. Like many things though, there are more commonalities between the seemingly unrelated professions than at first glance.
“There is a huge camaraderie within the glass community,” says Frates. “So, it’s really a natural fit evolving from the Marine Corps into glass blowing, at least for me.”
Frates needed only one class of glass blowing before he became immersed. Successful glass-worker Tom Philabaum saw Frates and took him under his mentorship to teach him the intricacies of a career in glass blowing.
“I guess he saw some potential and some talent there and took me under his wing to teach me how to do it,” says Frates.
Though being scouted for the glass art industry after taking one class would make one assume he is a natural, Frates worked hard to get to where he is today: the owner of his own company, Doug Frates Glass.
Frates worked with Philabaum for a good period of time, learning the business and technique of glass blowing before deciding he was ready to embark on his own to explore the potential of his own creativity and skill.
The decision to start his own glass art company was a good one. Doug Frates Glass, located in Springfield, Ohio, is now renowned beyond the American border, selling art that is highly sought and admired.
But Frates maintains the key to his success is the team of five full-time employees that work with him. Up to four people can be working on one piece at a time, and every person plays a vital role in the successful creation of the vase, bowl, sculpture, or whatever piece is in creation.
“I am a gaffer. We’ll call it the boss man of the troop,” Frates states. “A gaffer manipulates, molds, and makes the glass to his needs. The assistants are there to deliver what the gaffer needs. That’s what makes it such a team. We are able to create such unique things, we can create large things, and we can do it on such a level that most glass artists have a hard time doing.”
Doug Frates Glass is a unique company because they give creative freedom to their customers. Usually catering to interior designers, Doug Frates Glass lets the customer decide everything from the colour, design, shape, and size of the piece of glass.
“The sky is the limit. We can go forever on what they want,” Frates proudly explains.
So what does it really take to blow glass? The process is variable, ranging from one and a half hours all the way to four hours to create one piece. Regardless of the shape or complexity, the general process is the same.
Doug Frates and his team begin with discussion of the product with their customer. Once the details of the desired piece are decided, the team gets into the heat of things.
Colour is applied to the molten glass, and then they pop a bubble in order to be able to blow the glass. At this point, Frates and his assistants must work with the glass, shaping it as desired.
Shaping molten glass requires a lot of twisting, rolling, and reheating. A special furnace, called the glory hole, which is slightly hotter (yes, hotter) than the furnace that originally melts the glass is used to reheat and manipulate the glass into its final shape and design.
After this sweltering work is complete, the piece of glass is placed in a box to cool for 24-48 hours.
The work may be long and difficult, but the end result is more than worth it. Doug Frates Glass pieces are stunning. The designs range from simpler two-toned patterns to detailed designs like their famous Sedona pattern that combines lines, dots, and colour.
“It’s modern and it’s kind of old school, so it has a bit of uniqueness to it,” says Frates of his signature design.
Creating anywhere from one to twenty-five pieces a day, Doug Frates’ job is anything but predictable and repetitious.
“It’s a pretty fun job,” he says.
I am convinced. Glass blowing is a pretty awesome job, but with talk of almost 1100ºC furnaces, I can imagine not only a sweltering workplace, but also a high risk of being burned, and that is enough to make me shy away.
Frates, however, wasn’t very concerned with the lack of protective gear and the surplus of fire in the workshop.
“That’s part of the gig with the glass blowing community; you are going to get burned,” says Frates. “You kind of just learn from your mistakes, you move forward, and that’s part of the deal.”
Lesson learned: glass blowing is not for the heat sensitive or the weak. Glass blowing is a unique profession, combining physical labour with creativity. It is incredible how so much hard work with such an extreme element like fire can result in delicate, detailed artwork.
I was scared to ask about pricing, lest my dreams of owning one of his fluted bowls be smashed. But, I am holding out for the day that I have a steady income because I will be requesting an original Doug Frates creation. He creates beautiful and unique artwork that would add interest and inspiration to any room.