Twirling Molten Glass in Public Wasn’t Asheville Enough, So They Added Beer to the Action

Glass artists Geoff Koslow, left, and Billy Guilford have a clear idea of what the city wants. Photo by Jack Sorokin.

Those ripples and waves in antique window panes were likely formed by human breath. That’s because glassblowers of old were relied upon to create everyday objects like bottles, jugs, vases, and even sheets of window glass. Now Geoff Koslow and Billy Guilford of Lexington Glassworks are literally breathing life back into the functional role of the glassblower.

Since opening their high-profile South Slope studio (which includes a craft-beer bar) in 2013, they’ve become celebrated makers of blown-glass vessels, ornaments, and custom lighting, selling pieces “from here to Costa Rica to Bali,” says Geoff. (Items range from $10 to $5,000.) They’ve also mastered the type of dramatic glassblowing that plays to spectacle-hungry Asheville audiences.

Glassblowing is performance art with you guys, isn’t it?
Billy: All of what we make is with an audience watching. We never work behind the scenes.
Geoff: We pride ourselves on our open-door culture. We invite the public to witness the art of glassblowing in hope that they will gain a better appreciation for the craft … while enjoying a cold local beer.
Billy: It’s the total Asheville experience.

Do you guys have scars from glassblowing?
Geoff: People always assume that working with hot glass, you’ll have all these accidents. You just have to pay attention to what you’re doing. Blowing glass requires lot of hand, eye, and tool coordination.

Whose idea was it to open a taproom inside a gallery full of breakable art and molten glass?
Billy: When in Asheville, do as the Ashevilleans do.
Geoff: We’re just doing our part to keep Asheville weird.

Doesn’t it get uncomfortably hot?
Billy: When you’re within a couple of feet of glass that’s 2,000 degrees, yeah. But sweating a lot keeps us skinny.
Geoff: There was this saying in the studio I worked in Texas, that it takes a lot of Mexican food and cheap beer to keep away those six-pack abs. But to be serious, yeah, it gets hot, but you get used to it. It’s all a part of the job.

If you get dehydrated, there’s beer on tap, right?
Geoff: That’s true, and I think beer has a good amount of water in it. Probably electrolytes, don’t you think? But we try to hold off on the beer until after work. Staying hydrated is really important when blowing glass.

How do you keep up with the growing inventory demand?
Geoff: We blow glass seven hours a day.
Billy: This was fun, but we have to go now.
Geoff: A crowd is gathering. They expect to see glassblowers in action.

Lexington Glassworks, 81 S. Lexington Ave., Asheville. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 10am-6pm, and Sunday 11am-6pm. (There’s no glassblowing on Tuesday.) The bar is open Friday-Sunday, 2-6pm. On the 1st Friday of each month, 5-8pm, April through December, the venue stages the Glassworks Concert Series, where Geoff and Billy add live music to the mix. For more information, call 828-348-8427 or see lexingtonglassworks.com.

Summer of Glass
May – October
Concurrent with the installations by glass giant Dale Chihuly at Biltmore Estate, the local NC Glass Center has implemented a season of complementary exhibits featuring local makers. Lexington Glassworks, one of 70 local participants in Summer of Glass, will host educational demos Saturday and Sunday throughout the six-month event. Also expect a pop-up exhibit of work by Asheville-area stained-glass and cast-glass artists. For updates, check out summerofglass.com.

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