Decades of Study and Thousands of Miles in, Blower is Still Hot for Glass

John Almaguer likes to burn a mystical element into his pieces. Photo by Matt Rose

John Almaguer’s artistic epiphany wasn’t reverent or momentous. It just made him giddy — “like a kid in a candy shop,” he says. “No restrictions.”

His first experience blowing glass came as a student at Tidewater Community College in Virginia. “I was like bobbing, almost jumping up and down … I was literally so ecstatic,” says Almaguer. He knew immediately he wanted this to be his life’s pursuit.

Years before, when he was in his early teens, he’d seen works by glass star Dale Chihuly — the toast of Asheville this summer for his multiple installations at Biltmore House. Almaguer loved Chihuly’s style — “wild, colorful, and loose,” he describes. It stuck with him; drove him across the world, in fact. After getting his BFA in the medium from Appalachian Center for Crafts at Tennessee Technological University, he decided to travel to the island of Murano in Venice, an area noted for its long history of glassmaking. In Italy, he studied with Livio Serena, who comes from a 1,100-year-long line of glassblowers.

But there’s more than one gran capo of Italian glass, and following graduation, he returned to Murano and entered an apprenticeship with two more maestros of the form, Oscar Zanetti and Arnaldo Zanella. Almaguer says he learned more in that one year than in the seven years he’d been working in glass.

He wasn’t making enough money in Italy to start a family, though, so in 2011 he and his wife moved to Asheville. Even though his wife had previously lived in Asheville, he says he didn’t know much about the town. “It was an awesome surprise to me how much of an art Mecca it was, and even a glass center as well.”

In addition to his individual pieces, he currently shows two series: Realms and Chambers. “Realms,” says John, “is about God and man coming to union.” To accompany this series, he published a pamphlet that explains the idea and includes stories about people who’ve had mystical experiences.

The pieces in Chambers were made using a technique he came up with in Murano. He forms these pieces by creating multiple tubes, heating them back up, fusing them together, then blowing them out as a cohesive piece. This series, he says, “speaks to the different chambers — or facets — we all contain within ourselves.”

At least one of his own chambers is still filled with what he calls the “mystery and challenge” of his divine medium. “The process is so addictive. When it’s in the furnace, the glass is the same temperature as the inside of a volcano. It’s hot stuff.”

John Almaguer works directly with customers; see almaguerglass.com for more information. He donates 10% of direct sales to help orphaned children in Africa. Almaguer is a member artist of North Carolina Glass Center, 140C Roberts St. in the River Arts District (ncglasscenter.org). He’s represented by St. Claire Art Studio & Gallery (344 Depot St. #144) and also sells work at the Asheville Art Museum gift shop.

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