KUDOS Column

 
Darlene and John Johnson sell their blown glass creations at Silver Lake Mall.  (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Darlene and John Johnson sell their blown glass creations at Silver Lake Mall. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 SATURDAY, DEC. 13, 2008

The glass menagerie

 

Artists John, Darlene Johnson create blown glass, pottery in their Dog and Pup Studios

 
 

With a name like Dog and Pup Studios, one might visualize a grooming salon catering to canines or, perhaps, a kennel.

 

Instead, Dog and Pup Studios is the name of the studio of two artists, a husband-and-wife team, John and Darlene Johnson, who create delicate beauty from both clay and blown glass.

 

During December, they and fellow artists and crafters rent individual spaces in the center aisle of Coeur d’Alene’s Silver Lake Mall. The Johnsons’ booth is easy to spot because of the galaxy of blown glass spheres that seem to float, suspended on almost invisible threads.

 

Customers who shop at the various booths have an opportunity to meet and talk to the creative people who sell their own work at this annual, pre-Christmas event. John tells the story behind the “Dog and Pup” name: “In the early ’80s my wife tells me that I was whining because I wanted a new toy. She said, ‘you poor dog.’ One thing led to another, and from that time on our nicknames became Dog and Pup.”


Said Darlene, “He wanted me to be dog, too, but I said, ‘No way.’ You know what they call a lady dog.” She chuckles. “So I settled on Pup.”

 

The name may be unusual, but John thinks it sounds better than “Johnson’s Glass.”

 

The Johnsons have always been self-employed and operated an air-conditioning and heating business for years. As with so much of what followed, one thing seemed to lead to learning and trying something else. For example, Darlene took a class in making stained-glass windows because she wanted a stained-glass window in her home; buying one was too expensive.

 

Prior to learning the craft of pottery-making at the Spokane Art School, Darlene had been a flat artist, doing drawings and paintings – and taking her work to shows.

 

At the shows she noticed that pottery sold well. “The potters couldn’t wrap fast enough,” she says.

When Darlene took up pottery making, John became interested in glass blowing. From his experience with the mechanics of air conditioning, John built his own glass-making equipment.

 

Today, glass and pottery is the couple’s sole business. Darlene says, “We do two to three shows a month – about 23 to 27 a year, with January and February off.” The couple live in Coeur d’Alene and travel to shows locally and throughout the Northwest. They also show their art work at several cooperatives and Auntie’s in Spokane.

 

The Johnsons do not make their own glass from scratch but travel to Seattle to buy clear glass cubes which John will melt in their own crucible. John explains that glass is formed from pure silica and discovered that the source of their particular glass is Lane Mountain Inc. in Valley, Wash., owned and operated by Ed Skates. The company mines silica near Valley and ships the raw material by truck to Seattle for processing.

 

John uses no paint but adds the color to his glass objects by rolling the still scorching hot, blown glass in glass chips. The chips melt and give such objects as the glass balls their various colors – pink, green, lavender and red. He comments on glass that is labeled “Mt. St. Helen’s glass, saying that the ash does not make glass, that only a small amount is added to add value as a souvenir.

 

In addition to the glass balls, a new offering this year includes a useful, plant-watering tube – great for the indoor gardener. The 10- or 12-inch metal “stem” that plugs into the bottom of a glass ball is inserted into the dirt at the base of the plant and when the soil dries out, the ball, which is filled with water, releases enough water to keep the plant suitably moist.

 

 

Another new piece this year is “Walk on the Beach,” a variation of the snowstorm paperweight. Instead of shaking the glass globe to create a snowstorm, one shakes a layer of sand, shells and drift wood sealed inside the ball. Darlene says, “You can rearrange your “beach” so that it is different each time you shake it.” This would be great for a desk in a landlocked, office cubicle.
 

If the booth seems to display a predominance of glass balls, perhaps there is a reason. Darlene believes that John became interested in glass blowing because he searched constantly to find one of the glass, fishing-net floats that sometimes washes up on Pacific beaches. “He never did find one,” she says.

Darlene designs her jewelry, bracelets, ear rings and necklaces from broken glass balls after reheating and shaping the material. “We are green,” she laughs. “We recycle.”

 

Perhaps the real show-stopper of the Johnson’s booth is a rectangular, glass plate, about the size of a lap top computer screen and is centered with the profile of a swimming, red salmon. The fish itself began as a copper sheet which Darlene cut in the shape of a salmon and added the details. Then she placed the salmon on amber glass and overlay that with clear glass before firing the whole thing. Intense heat changes the copper to red and fuses the outside slabs of glass together. There are bubbles in the water which add to the realism.

 

Darlene says the bubbles were not planned and that there sometimes are surprises; in the firing, things happen, often for the better – sometimes not.

 

She has another salmon plate, made in the same way as the show stopper, but something occurred in the heating process. No sleek salmon this fish. It turned out chunky and thick in the middle.

“My husband calls it The Grouper,” she says. And it does look like one.

Here is where a sense of humor, both in life and art, helps – when things take an unplanned turn.