Intense, beautiful and searing hot, a blob of molten glass at the end of a metal blowpipe begins to take shape Thursday afternoon.
Wearing sunglasses and working with 2,000-degree heat, Elizabeth Neikirk stretches, pummels, twists, rolls and molds her fist-sized ornament. Nearby, her husband, Oscar, works with a giant lathe, which he spun slowly under decreasing heat, allowing his art piece to cool without cracking.
Their workmanship kept patrons of Fire Island, a recently opened glass studio and art gallery, speechless and in awe.
The couple creates necklace pendants, wall decor, vases, figurines, paperweights, tiles, coasters, gazing balls, lighting and custom artwork in their business on Mamalahoa Highway in Kealakekua, just south of Mango Court. Their work is full of exuberance and color, as well as infused with their love for the islands — a constant source of inspiration.
They specialize in lampworking — a type of glasswork using a torch to melt rods and tubes of glass — and fusing — a method similar to techniques used in making stained glass that involves stacking sheets of glass and using a kiln, Oscar said.
Their 9-year-old son, Kit, also contributes. His pieces are proudly displayed and sold. Prices range from $4 marbles to $600 fused glass panels. However, most of the pieces cost about $20.
Besides offering a full view of the captivating process behind red transparent curtains, the couple also teaches four-hour-long workshops, costing $150, that give customers a chance to create and learn about the more than 2,000-year-old art of glassblowing. Those interested need only to inquire in person or by phone. Already, lessons have been given to a class of home-schoolers and a mother and daughter.
Elizabeth said they hope Fire Island becomes a sort of training ground for artists of all ages and another place for people to showcase work or give live demonstrations. The couple wants to regularly bring in guest artists to showcase their talent, lecture and share new techniques in glass sculpture. They’re planning to hold a grand opening celebration at year’s end, when several glassblowers will likely collaborate on large-scale, themed pieces.
The family moved from Northern California to South Kona specifically to open up a glass studio and art gallery. Oscar said they felt a sort of kinship with Pele and were inspired by the island’s beauty and spirit of free creation. Prior, they mostly did wholesale orders from their home.
Oscar learned glassblowing at age 18, intrigued by the history and science behind the practice and the limitless creative expression it allows.
“I love the effects, the brilliant colors, the durability and the contrasts of hard and soft, fragile and sturdy, honey-like liquid and rock solid,” he said.
Over the past 14 years, he has apprenticed under and worked with many well-known glassblowers, such as Maui’s Jason Harris, and those at the famed Eugene Glass School in Oregon. Oscar then taught Elizabeth, who has been creating the art for more than a decade.
The couple found the space on Craigslist, met the building’s owner in San Francisco and instantly fell in love with the location. Since opening in June, they have learned more about the building’s history and enjoyed meeting people from around the world and the community.
One customer recently told them the building was built during World War II, and was used as a farm cooperative where his family members packed tomatoes and honey. Later, it was transformed into many different businesses, including a ballroom dance studio, Oscar said.
For more information, call 443-3223.