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Christy and Cal Breed are fluent in the language of fire. In 2002, the couple opened a hot shop and gallery to practice and teach others about the ancient art of glass blowing. Since then, Orbix Hot Glass, located on 26 acres bordering Little River Canyon National Preserve in Fort Payne, has become an established business—attracting visitors from near and far to see Cal’s extraordinary pieces and the fascinating process of creating them. We sat down with Christy to learn more about Orbix, glass art, and the Alabama maker community.
What is the inspiration behind your work?
We are outside people. Our studio was designed with large open bay doors on both sides of the hot shop. Vacations and spare time are spent playing, exploring, and observing our amazing outdoor world. Much of the play involves sports that require careful observation of subtle patterns and designs in the environment, as well as the natural flow patterns of movement in one of the greatest creations in the world—the human body. As a rock climber, textures and patterns of stone give clues to unlocking the best sequence for scaling a wall. As a kayaker, patterns in the water reveal the underlying current and obstacles that are beneath the surface, thus identifying the best course to take down the river. In paragliding, clues from the landscape, birds, and clouds indicate thermal and wind action that can determine the seemingly invisible course of a cross-country flight. All of these activities inform the artwork in some way—in its curves, subject matter, production techniques, colors, etc. Most of our pieces have a story of why and how they were made. To unlock the stories, you just have to visit and observe the pieces and mood of the studio.
Can you tell us about the process and craftsmanship behind glass art?
It is an old art and craft that has a history as rich as any great story. One of the most important things to know about glass is that it is very difficult. The time and focus it takes to go beyond being a beginner is extraordinary, and this is cost prohibitive for many. Cal was fortunate to get his BFA in glassblowing at Ohio State University. The freedom to learn in a university setting with excellent instruction was priceless. Technique has been passed down for hundreds of years, and to have access to the knowledge, plus the time to practice, is what it takes. Cal would watch great Italian maestros create pieces in the studio and on video and really just memorize in his head and on paper what they did. When he had studio time, he would mimic all the movements not even understanding the “whys.” Decades later, he understands some of the “why’s.”
What kinds of pieces do you make?
The glass made at Orbix runs the complete spectrum from small gift to museum-quality sculpture. They all serve different and multiple purposes for how we operate [as a business]. Because Cal needs a team to make his larger works, we employ a certain number of glass artists. Over the years, we have trained local people to help, and we have hired beginner glassblowers with the hopes of sharpening their artistic skills as they pursue their own careers as artists. To do this, Cal designs pieces they make entirely, and then they create this line of work that people can enjoy and take home after visiting Orbix. Cal creates a more refined line of functional vessels (i.e. the Curly Pitcher, Water Bowl, Spun Honey Vases) with this team. This type of work is sold in specialty home stores and craft galleries around the country. Finally, Cal makes one-of-a-kind sculptures and commissioned installations for art galleries. This work has also been included in a couple of solo exhibitions at regional museums.
What are your thoughts on the maker community in our state? How do you see yourself fitting into that community?
As a maker, a parent, a business owner, and a member of our local community, time does not allow us to be really involved in many events around the state. For nearly twenty years, we have attempted to build our studio and gallery to reflect our original vision: making exceptional artwork in a small studio that is run like a well-respected business. For many years, there were a few around the state doing the same as us, and many of those people are still making great work. However, in the last few years as we have had more time to look around, it is exciting to see more young people opening businesses around the state that have craftsmanship and creativity at their core. I think we have a state that is more ready to appreciate it, both young and older generations. At the heart of it all, though, it does take vision and faith, learning and teaching, commitment and time, sleepless nights and strong coffee.
What are your plans for the future of Orbix?
We will keep building teams of glassblowers to send out into the larger glass art world. We will still educate everyone who walks through our studio doors about the wonders of glass and the satisfaction creating anything can bring the human soul, whether it’s through glass, a business, or an idea. Cal will always be an observer and a maker, and as long as he has breath, he will learn and be mesmerized, as well as create and mesmerize.
Orbix Gallery and Hot Shop is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Classes to blow your own ornament, tumbler, flower, or paperweight are offered regularly. Find a full schedule of classes at orbixhotglass.com/events.