Glass blowing is a talent one coastal artist turned into a thriving business in Lincoln City.
“I started the Alder House some 50 years ago after graduating from Portland State University with a degree in painting and drawing,” says Buzz Williams, owner of the studio next to an alder grove just three quarters of a mile east of Highway 101.
“Here we practice the 2,000-year-old craft of turning molten glass into goblets, vases, bowls and other forms,” says Williams, who put aside his degree to open his studio. “The workshop that I had taken at PSU had hooked me and for the better part of my adult life has kept me happy and looking forward to the work day. I never have Mondays.”
Williams moved to the coast in 1968 and built the first Alder House the next year, an A-frame built from logs taken from the beach.
“We sawed the lumber for it from this wood and split cedar shakes to cover the entire thing,” he says. “It hung out over Drift Creek, had a dirt floor, and a very crude furnace and annealing oven. We blew glass until late in the year and then closed for the winter. But it was a start and was soon discovered by the media and we were on our way.”
The start Williams had hoped for was short lived as the building burned down the following spring after being open that year only eight days. In 1970, a second studio was built and opened.
“So, on July 5 our little geodesic dome saw the first piece of glass made at this site,” he says. “This was on the property that now houses the third iteration of the Alder House and was just a bit farther to the east of the current location.
“We chose a geodesic dome for several reasons, one of them being that one could enclose the greatest amount of space with the least amount of material,” he says. “Cost was still an important factor for us. Up through 1998, we hosted a great number of visitors in this space before moving to higher ground as the dome flooded from time to time. So many fond memories of our little round workspace both for us and the folks who watched us work.”
Alder House III opened on March 15, 1999 and continues to be the place where Williams “has fun” doing what he likes to do.
“It is no longer a dome,” he says. “It is half again bigger than the 800 square feet of the dome and is as much taller. This provides better ventilation to rid the space of excess heat and therefore makes it more comfortable for the craftspeople and our guests. It also gives us a bit more room for some additional equipment allowing for greater creativity.”
Williams says several people have started their glassblowing ventures at the Alder House, and many have gone on to start studios of their own.
“We are all proud of what we have brought to the community and hope to continue on into the future, vastly enjoying what we do and especially delighting at the looks of wonderment on the faces of both kids and adults as they watch the wonder of glassblowing,” he says.
Like any craft, Williams says there are struggles learning the basics. However, after these are mastered, the process becomes “more of a matter of refinement and then letting the design creation evolve,” he says.
“Since we not only blew glass, but also built the equipment,” he says, “studio glass being somewhat a new venture, we learned bit by bit the building and maintaining of this equipment. So, there was a lot of learning to do on getting it right — or close — so that we could concentrate on making pieces.”
Guests are more than welcome to visit and watch as he and others at the studio draw glass with a blowing iron from a furnace heated to 2,000 degrees.
“We’ll blow it hollow, add more glass, block it, jack it, dent it, add bubbles and do all sorts of things to get it into the shape we want,” Williams says. “Then onto a pontil it goes so we can work the top and then, finally, into the lehr for annealing.”
Williams says each visitor has the process explained as the craftsperson executes the piece.
“So, in that sense there is some instruction on the process,” he says. “The Alder House does not do the ‘blow-your-own’ thing. Each piece is a new piece, and even though the changes from previous ones can be subtle, it is a new adventure,” Williams says.