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John DesMeules

DesMeules blends glass-making techniques for functional art

By ANN ALI aali@wowktv.com

BECKLEY — John DesMeules moves swiftly from a 1,900-degree glass furnace and a table with neat piles of powdered glass sorted by hues to a chair where he rolls a bar with a hot blob of glass swirled with color. As he does so, he comfortably chats about how he rolls with each day just as smoothly as the glass shifts.

"You can't rush glass," he said with a smile. "It has a life of its own, so you work with it at the speed it heats and cools.

"Sometimes it's surprising how it turns out."

The 45-year-old DesMeules started working with glass when he was 21. He emphatically describes his career path as "providential."

DesMeules spends most days laboring behind the plain, clear glass of Studio C at Tamarack next to shelves of his creations. But his work is actually visible throughout Tamarack. He was making products for the building before it was finished and created the ornate designs for many of its  doors.

"Since John began blowing glass here, sales have considerably improved, and it's definitely a result of them getting the studio going again," said Tamarack General Manager Cheryl Hartley. "He's great with the customers."

DesMeules has been blowing glass in Tamarack's Studio C for about a year. Prior to that, the facility was without a glass blower on display for three or four years. DesMeules kept calling and asking if he could rent or borrow the furnace from the previous artist.

"They just said I could come here and use it," DesMeules said. "I've had 25 to 30 people watching at a time, which is different from my studio in Eleanor where I'm back in the woods.

"I like having the door open here; people can peek in or yell in, and it's really fun. It doesn't faze me at all."

DesMeules was born in New Hampshire and then moved to Florida where he was sandblasting glass and met his wife. Luckily for West Virginia, she was a Poca native.

"We came to West Virginia so she could get her teaching certificate renewed, and one thing led to another and we moved," he said. "I looked for a job sandblasting and found Harmon Glass in Scott Depot."

His wife, Susan, teaches art at Buffalo High School, and their daughter Holly helps with marketing her father's creations.

Don Harmon, whom DesMeules calls "the godfather of glass," taught DesMeules the art of glassblowing and still lends a hand in Studio C. Harmon also perfected the design of the ring holder that's become DesMeules' top seller.

The pair turn out hundreds of ring holders and paperweights every day, with even more on order, and DesMeules said he doesn't keep a count of how many he makes per day — "as many as I can," he laughed.

He takes custom orders and always gets a thrill out of concentrating while spinning 10 pounds of hot, molten glass into a large, flared bowl, but he makes time to try new things, which almost always pays off.

He recently created two glass birds on a whim, and after spending almost a day on a ledge in Studio C, they were snatched up by a shopper who poked her head in the door to inquire.

"A lot of it is trial and error, and seeing what works, and Tamarack has helped me a lot," he said.

His ring holders are stocked at Calvin Broyles Jewelers in South Charleston. Gift shops at Oglebay and The Greenbrier feature his work. The state contracted with him to create awards, and universities have commissioned his pieces as well.

He's combined blown glass with blasted glass, and said his wide range of price points and diversification have helped his creations rise above the dying art form label.

He is in the process of launching workshops at Tamarack to teach glass blowing, and said he wants to make his art in West Virginia as long as he can.