Georgetown satisfies glass worker's artistic needs

Among an outcropping of artists in old industrial Georgetown is Robert Woldow's fusion glass studio. A tall, wiry gentleman with a salt and pepper crewcut, Woldow moves about his studio, a spacious former storage room. Known as ArtsCraft Seattle, Woldow's workshop is located on the ground floor of a red brick Georgian brewery building which the artist says he chose hands down over studio space in other neighborhoods with larger, more established artist communities.

"I like to be closer to input than output," Woldow asserted. "I need light, power, water, space."

According to Woldow, glass work uses toxic substances and can produce fumes that are more compatible with a light industrial environment.

"When my products are finished I can take them to customers in Pioneer Square or wherever they happen to be," said Woldow.

He feels other Georgetown art works such as Artcore Studios, Jem Art Center, and Image Custom Ironwork have probably chosen Georgetown for similar reasons.

Becoming an artist

According to Woldow, the discovery of his true calling as an artist was an unexpected find as he approached middle age. Born and raised near Philadelphia, Woldow moved to California where he majored in economics and political science at Stanford in the late 1970's. Finishing his education, Woldow had a variable career as a congressional aide, then as a mutual funds underwriter, and later as the owner and manager of a successful travel agency.

After selling the travel agency, Woldow said he was left with a "nice cushion to play with" for the rest of his life. He and his partner decided to move to Arizona where they began to discover, admire, and collect glass art work.

By the time he relocated to Arizona Woldow was in his late forties and described himself as, "the last person in the world to ever think of myself as an artist." He recalled that, as a child, he had always liked arts and crafts but did not consider himself good at them. In fact, he could not draw.

Watching glass artists in Arizona, Robert felt drawn to try his hand at the craft. But when he finally phoned his mother to tell her he had decided to become a glass artist, she thought he was joking.

"Everyone has always told me I had good taste," Woldow noted. "I knew what I liked. I could visualize a high quality product."

He says he was "seduced" by the challenge of making something that would please him.

"I have always been a numbers person, and fusing glass is about using your mind, plotting a strategy involving time, temperature, and fusing schedules," asserted Woldow. "The artist plots a sequence of events using heat and gravity to coax the glass into taking shape."

Woldow hated the hot summers in Arizona, so he and his partner took a trip to Seattle around five years ago with the idea of looking for a new home. During the trip Robert learned that the Pratt Fine Arts Center would be offering classes in glass blowing and fusion.

He signed up for the classes and commuted here from Phoenix for several weeks until he and his partner could move to Seattle. A year later he opened the studio in Georgetown.

His hard work and dedication has paid off, for Woldow's first major show will appear from April 21 to May 29 at Avalon Glassworks at 2914 SW Avalon Way in West Seattle. "Woldow's work expresses strong geometry and vivid color," said Avalon's Shannon Felix. "It's fascinating, intricate, and shows high contrast."

The pieces on display at Avalon will be functional art works such as platters, trays and bowls, but they are intended for primarily decorative purposes. Woldow produced them by cutting thin layers of glass, slumping them on a mold and placing them in a kiln for many hours in accordance with strategically planned timing and temperature.

"It is a continually experimental process," Woldow noted. "My current work explores the discipline of line control, varying from strictly ordered parallel symmetry to unrestrained interwoven flows. Each piece starts with strips of glass cut to an identical width and laid on edge. Like Pandora's Box, what emerges - success or failure, beauty or beast - is recognized only when the lid is lifted."

He likens the glass medium to "an evil mistress - seductive and temperamental, strong but delicate, sharp yet smooth. . . The results (like the evil mistress) range from serene to severe."

Woldow says he prefers his work to be seen as "more clever than beautiful."

Woldow's Avalon Glassworks exhibit features smaller functional pieces priced at less than $300. However, Woldow envisions that, during the next phase of his career, he will produce larger, glass-sculpture works priced at around $3,000.

Until then Woldow believes the import market will soon provide a demand for his smaller works of art. But whether its small or big, Woldow asserted the seductive nature of glass work continually challenges him to greater heights.

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