The minute you step into John Gladson’s Ring of Fire in Rocka¬way Beach right off Hwy 101, you can’t help but become energized. You also be¬come aware that John is a one-man-show, who is extremely talented, a high energy artist, who likes to play with fire, literally.
Gladson is the artist and owner of John’s Handblown Glassworks/Ring of Fire Glassworks in the quaint beach community with most of his business in the busy months, teaching visitors the heated art of glassblowing. He also creates many pieces for sale in his showroom, like floats, nitelights, glass eggs, cups, bowls…just about anything to do with glass decorations.
With being a single owner, John has to take care of class bookings, market¬ing, production, teaching, ordering — everything it takes to run a successful business. And sometimes that can be difficult.
“This year is a blessing thanks to a good community behind me,” he said. “The glass business is in a transition, materials are scarce — hard to find because of the big glass companies,” he said as he readied for a demonstration to a threesome of visitors. “This year is a blessing because my glass company was only going to send me about 2,000 lbs of glass and they sent me 6,000 lbs, enough for the entire season.”
That is a good thing, because John is adding something to his offerings, that is sure to catch fire.
After years of making glass floats, glass paperweights and glass nitelights, a tornado-like vortex of colors is something John has captured in glass as a way to hold memories.
He now offers a unique way for people to remember their loved ones. He uses ashes as a key part of the process.
Inside of a large colorful glass container he works to create wispy whirlwind within, “a porthole to heaven,” he said with a smile while showing one of two designs he’s finished. “There are nothing in the world like this.”
He said he was inspired by an age-old simple children’s toy. “I’d seen them in marbles. I thought that I could try to incorporate them in my glass,” he said.
Using the cremated ashes of a loved one created some challenges of its own, Gladson said.
A misstep would create cracks.
“It has to be tempered just right,” he said. “So the layers are the layers of their life.”
Gladson has been a glassblower since 1990.
His biggest challenge has been meeting the demand with a growing group of visi¬tors who stop by his shop to take a lesson.
It is something he admits he really enjoys doing, performing for the visitors.
“What is really flying here is the classes. I have many different things you can blow. You can make the float with a hook so you can hang it, you can do it with a flat bottom and set it on a mantle, or you can make it into a nitelight,” he said. “You can do a paperweight egg. You can do a vase or a bowl,” he added, noting just some of the choices his students have.
“It has been just phenomenal how busy I have been just doing the classes,” he said.
There also has been a very positive response left online by the students, with some posting comments and others post¬ing videos.
“People are really happy with the experience. I am very thorough – and a live wire,” he said, adding a smile.
At times, it may get a little crowded in the repurposed gas station that Gladson calls home. “I have had as many as 14 at one time in a class.
“First thing I do after they decide the color, I run them through safety. I tell them what not to touch.”
Sometimes, Gladson admits he likes to show off a little bit for the students. He proceeded to demonstrate rolling the mol¬ten glass behind his back or using his legs.
“It is really demanding. You can’t stop and take a break. When you start a piece, you have got to finish the piece. You have got to have a certain timing because of the temperatures. If it gets too cold, it will crack.
“You have got to keep on top of it and maintain the temperature,” he explained. “But once people get the rhythm, it is almost like a dance,” Gladson said.
The Ring of Fire is the sixth glass shop he has started over the years.
After learning the basics, he admits be¬ing self-taught when it comes to blowing glass. “It is mechanical thinking… It is just troubleshooting. It is heat versus gravity.
“You have got to keep it rotating and turning,” he explained.
When you watch John whip the rods of molten glass around his shop cooling and forming the pieces while adding layers of color and then adding more molten glass, it’s almost like watching a graceful dancer turn ninja from one motion to the next. But every action he takes is a contrived step in the process.
“The art flows with my energy, every¬time I do something it has a purpose,” he said. “I like the motion, I like to move.”
Gladson readily admits he enjoys instructing the people who stop by to take his classes. “I’m very thorough,” he added. “We create memorable moments, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Gladson was a featured artist years ago when he had a shop in Mt. St. Helens. “I had designed a five-page catalogue, but it was work, work, work…”
Some things still haven’t changed. “I build my equipment. I maintain my equipment. There is a lot more to it than just blowing glass,” he added.
Although he has been living in Rocka¬way Beach for several years, he didn’t take over shop until July of 2015. “Up until then, I was just advising and helping. I had the opportunity to become owner then and make it work, so that’s what I did,” he explained. “That is what I am working hard at.”
The Ring of Fire Glassworks is located at 496 Highway 101 on the southern side of Rockaway Beach. It’s good to call before you show up, because his classes fill up quickly. But you will be able to bring home a piece of glass art after Gladson puts the final touches on them.
“Everything they make is at least worth the cost of the class,” he said. “The memories they make are priceless.”