Christina Bucciere | The Gazette
He sits on a wooden stool in the three-season room of his parent’s home in Wadsworth, his left hand guiding a long, cylindrical piece of clear glass tubing. The fingers on his right hand spin another piece of glass tubing, rotating the bell-shaped jar forming on the other end.
In between his busy hands, a torch bolted to the wooden tabletop is spewing out an icy blue flame.
At about 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, it instantaneously melts the glass to a viscous, malleable state that yields to the artist’s gentle commands without the slightest resistance.
Joshua Courtright, 28, made the decision this spring to pursue glass blowing as a full-time career. Although his decision poses financial challenges, Courtright’s move is rooted in passion, commitment and a lot of confidence.
Courtright became interested in glass blowing in 2007 after seeing blown glass artwork in shops.
“It’s just a beautiful way to express yourself,” Courtright said. “I like the precision it takes to shape the glass but also the ability to still be creative with the design, and the process relaxes me.”
Courtright took one class with a local shopkeeper where he learned the basics of glass blowing.
Instead of seeking additional instruction, Courtright spent the past six years developing his skills through Internet research, watching YouTube videos and by trial and error.
This spring, Courtright quit his pizza delivery job to pursue glass blowing full time.
“I’ve always been interested in art and making a living as an artist,” Courtight said. “I realized the best way to do that successfully would be to find an art form that was not only beautiful in form but could also serve a function.”
So far, Courtright has sold pieces to family and friends and on Etsy.com, the e-commerce website used by artists to sell their work. Under the name Wild Hare Flamework, Courtright said he has sold only a few items on Etsy, but hopes sales will pick up during the holiday season.
Courtright said he also plans to sell his pieces at local art shows.
Bob Pozarski, glass blowing teacher at the Peninsula Art Academy in Peninsula, in Summit County, reviewed Courtright’s offerings on Etsy.
“Josh has a good start, but he needs to diversify his product,” Pozarski said. “His work is attractive, and the pendants could be a good seller, but to get into the really well-established art shows, you need to have a variety.”
Henry Halem, professional glass blower and former director of the Kent State University glass blowing program, attests to the financial challenges that full-time artists face.
“Pursuing art is filled with a lot of pitfalls,” Halem said. “You can make commercial work that panders to popular taste for sales, which makes life easier as far as income is concerned,” he said. “But if you’re an artist with a capital ‘A,’ and you’re making work that is simply your vision, it’s hard to make a living at it.
“Many are called but few are chosen.”
Halem said he has seen many students attempt to pursue their craft full time and fail.
“It happens all the time,” Halem said. “Pursuing art is riskier than most businesses because it’s a product that is judged subjectively.
“You’re also dealing with people that have discretionary money, and that is a small group of people in this economy.”
Public support for artists is even more limited. In July, the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee slashed the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts nearly in half — reducing funding to a level not seen since the 1970s.
Even before the latest cuts, the chances of a glass blower winning a grant were slim: According to the NEA, the nation has 2.1 million artists, but only about 10 percent of those are in the field of fine arts.
In addition, many of the 2,300 NEA grants awarded in 2012 go to fund groups and not individual artists. About 40 percent of the NEA’s annual budget goes toward partnerships with arts organizations so there is little funding left for this small portion of the artistic community.
Courtright isn’t deterred, saying he’s confident in his abilities.
“I only ever had doubts in the beginning when I first started trying to sell my work in local shops, and the offers were low,” Courtright said. “Since I quit my job, I’ve probably doubled my skills in the past six months and am building more stock.
“I know I have the ability to do this.”
Courtright’s enthusiasm won over his mother’s initial doubts.
“At first I was hesitant to believe Josh could make a living glass blowing,” Cindy Courtright said. “But when I saw his true enthusiasm and dedication, I guess I realized that his passion for his art will lead him to success.”
Courtright said he plans to move soon to Smithfield, a rural village near Steubenville in southeast Ohio, to live in his grandfather’s home and to set up a year-round studio.
He hopes to find a part-time job until he can survive on sales of his artwork.
For now, Courtright said he is creating pieces that require no more than three hours to complete.
“Smaller pieces have a bigger market,” Courtright said. “Once I gain more recognition, I’ll start trying to find buyers who are interested in more expensive pieces that use up more time and resources.”
But money isn’t his motive, Courtright said.
“You have to do what you love,” he said. “It’s about making something you can believe in.”
Joshua Courtright’s artwork can be seen at http://www.etsy.com/shop/WildHareFlamework.
Contact Christina Bucciere at (330) 721-4065 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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