Glassblower Jon Offutt often finds inspiration in landscapes and uses them in his technique as a glassblower. He’s currently working on transferring landscape aesthetics into flattened, 2D forms, as well as jewelry. Contributed photo/Jon Offutt
There’s good reasoning behind Handle With Care warnings on glass objects.
Strong enough to use as a windshield, yet breakable as an egg, glass is both elemental and ornamental. Firm and fragile.
Not that you have to handle him with care, but a bit of the same goes for artist Jon Offutt, owner of House of Mulciber glass studio in south Fargo. He’s a bit like glass himself: made of raw material able to withstand intense heat and pressure. He’s sharp, too.
Co-founder of Fargo-Moorhead Visual Artists and the mind behind 20 years of Studio Crawl events every fall in the metro area, Offutt is a well-established glass blower, known regionally and nationally for his glass-blown vessels. His designs include a wide range of objects varying in symmetry, style, color and personality, many of which take on prairie and lakes-region landscapes.
“The Lake at Night,” ca. 2015. Contributed photo/Jon Offutt
Offutt’s had a 42-year relationship with glass, one with fairly humble beginnings and timeless stories.
“When I first built my studio, I didn’t have any money to buy glass, so I had some local bars save beer bottles,” he said. “That was my raw material for the first year and a half before I started spending money on glass.”
An early request came from priests at a Catholic church in Minnesota.
“I don’t know if they would have cared, but I didn’t tell the priests I made their vessels from old beer bottles,” he said.
Glass blowing requires a kind of athleticism performed near fires that burn hot enough that glass melts, acquiesces to shape, form and function.
Inside his south Fargo studio, The House of Mulciber (named after a god of fire), Offutt is masterful and fun to observe. Like a tennis player on court or a dancer on stage, he knows how to balance and force all elements in his favor.
“When I’m running glass, I’m on the dance floor. I’m making my magic,” he said.
Lately, Offutt throws his attention to 2D objects rather than 3D vessels, a practice he describes as, “Making the kiln go ‘click, click,” and is a far cry from the 2,000-degree fires he runs when creating vessels.
Offutt received $2,000 in grant funding from The Arts Partnership’s Individual Arts Partnership grant program in 2023 to continue his experimentation with 2D.
He takes vessels he’s already made and “slumps” them into smaller shapes he can warm up in the kiln and shape into smaller, flattened objects.
“Everything is flat,” Offutt said. “I slump it into a mold and make it into a platter by using gravity to help shape it. I’m fusing a lot of different colors, sheets and powders and stringers together to make a flat object rather than a vessel. That’s kind of it.”
The kiln is much less physical, too. Flatworks demonstrate the vast prairie landscape in interesting ways and very much reflect the style and aesthetic of Offutt’s vessel work.
“I subconsciously made the decision a few years ago to switch from hot glass to warm glass. It’s a different way of working than I’ve ever been exposed to before,” he said. “It’s taken me a couple of years to learn how to do it. It’s like playing the piano. The only way to really learn it is to really do it and again and again and again. Do it two more times. Then do it over.”
With hip replacements and the inevitable changes in mobility that happen to those of us lucky enough to grow older, Offutt welcomes the new form because it lends itself well to jewelry and smaller items he’s never made before.
“I know I’m getting old. I’m a grandpa now. I broke 60,” he said. “I don’t want to give up glass, so I’m moving from a hot glass back to warm glass,” referring to the process of heating glass to a temperature hot enough to make it soft and moldable.
For example, Offutt is creating a lapel pin with a northern plains landscape cut into the shape of North Dakota as a gift to Gov. Doug Burgum.
That’s not to say Offutt won’t be firing up the hotter furnace later in the fall when temperatures outside drop.
“The 2D work is another outlet for me to do in the summer when I’m not heating up my studio,” he said.
A sandblasted vessel, ca. 2020.
Unlike many artists who supplement their craft with teaching contracts, part-time gigs and driving for Uber, Offutt makes his living as a creator at House of Mulciber, which he said is a discipline that requires acumen in marketing, accounting and entrepreneurship.
“We (local artists) are the frosting. I’ve always realized I was the frosting on top of the economy as an artist with pieces to purchase. I know I’m not milk or bread or shoes. I’m the good stuff. I’m the stuff you get after you feed yourself,” Offutt said.
Understanding that art, like any other discipline, requires skills in other areas of business management, he’s worked hard over the decades to market his work, market others’ work, collaborate with other artists, and engage the community along the way.
“Artists don’t need to feel like business failures,” Offutt said. “They just need to take the marketing class. The writing class to learn how to write a good artist statement.”
The next couple of years will be a blend of hot and warm for the artist, and learning how to do the two things together.
“The work will overlap. I’ve made vessels into flat things that go on the wall, but I want to make my wall things and make them into objects. I’ve always said the debate between 2D and 3D is, ‘do you want to make pictures of things or do you want to make things?’ ” he said.
And to that, we answer: Jon, just keep on making.
About The Arts Partnership’s Individual Arts Partnership grants
The Arts Partnership awarded eight local artists, performers and musicians a total of $16,600 in grant support this year through the Individual Arts Partnership Grants (IAP).
Established in 2012, IAP grants recognize outstanding artist talent in the region at any career stage. The program supports artists working in a range of artistic genres, including literature, film, performance, music and the visual arts. A key aim of the program is to help the recipients pursue new ideas, opportunities and skills.
This is the 12th round of grants that The Arts Partnership has made to artists. To date, a total of 132 grants totaling $187,024 have been awarded.
About the author
Lonna Whiting is an independent journalist and content strategy consultant based in Fargo. She covers a broad range of topics, including local arts, health care, senior living, startups, technology and education. Whiting also writes extensively about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease for journals and publications such as Being Patient, an award-winning global news forum for dementia researchers, physicians, patients and their care partners. Read more of Whiting’s work at lonna.co.