Thomas established his own studio/hotshop in 2001 in St. Augustine, Florida and has been blowing glass for more than 28 years. Thomas’s stunning and colorful glass sculptures have been featured in Architectural Digest, Florida Design, Florida Architecture, and Coastal living Magazine.
Historic Coast Culture had the opportunity to visit his St. Augustine studio, and take an inside look into the history, process and inspiration of his work.
Tell us about your background and your studio.
I studied architecture at the University of Texas. I was there for 3 years. Then, I transferred to Texas Tech Architecture School. When I got there, they had a glass shop and I got to start taking classes. I ended up quitting architecture my fourth year and got my degree in art. I went to get my master’s work at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia in glass. I designed and built my own house in Texas back in the 90s. And I’ve designed several remodels here in St. Augustine. Also, my wife, Lahib, taught architecture and design for 4 years, so she’s into architect too.
Her studio is upstairs. She and I started planning last summer, and we had originally thought that we were going to buy a piece of property and build a new house and studio, but we realized that we really love this house and we figured out a way to fit a new studio on the property, which wasn’t easy because we only had so much space to work with.
How did you find your passion for blowing glass?
It was my 22nd birthday, and I had just left one of my architecture classes. In the basement of the architecture building there was a room, sort of like a storage room. I had been walking by it every day. I would hear all this noise – it sounded like a blow torch. There was music and voices.
My curiosity got the better of me and I went in. I saw these two guys blowing glass, and I had never seen anybody blowing glass before. I was blown away. I stood there for a while, watching them work while they finished what they were doing. I said hello, and ended up staying there for three hours. After a couple hours, I started asking if I could try it. And they were like, “No, No. You’ve got to be in the class!” I finally said, “It’s my birthday! You have to let me try it.” They did, and after one guy said, “You’ve done this before.” And I said, “Oh no. I’ve been watching you for three hours so I kind of picked up on the process.”
I’ve always been a pyromaniac, so the heat wasn’t a big issue to me. You have to be unafraid, you have to be intrigued, and you have to want to be that close to the heat.
Have you had any happy mistakes in creating your art?
All the time. You think you’ve done something “wrong” and then you look at the piece the next day and realize “Oh, that’s actually a pretty interesting effect.” So it ends up being something that gets worked into your style as time goes by. That kind of serendipity happens all the time. I’m open to that when I’m working on pieces. I tell my clients that there is always potential for happy mistakes, for things to be not quite like the original design. I’m free to shift direction whenever I can.
What motivates you as an artist?
Most of the work that I do is inspired by nature. The patterning that I do in the pieces is based on natural boundaries that you see in shells and sunflowers. It’s a division of 12 that rotates outwards in a golden mean. I’ve tried years of trial and error to come up with a process that emulates that, but not in a mechanical way, but more like a painting.
The steps and coloration in the process yield this result. I’m using different colors together, layering colors, over colors, over colors. The color in glass comes from metal oxides. You have metal oxides and heat, and chemical relations between those, so it enhances the patterning. If you combine different colors, you often get an unintended, but not necessarily attractive result. It might be grey or brown, or just muddy. But, sometimes it combines and enhances the pattern, and the result is incredible. I’ve figured out over the years which colors I can combine in what ways to get the effect.
How has living in St. Augustine affected your artistic process?
The question is – how has it not? When I moved here from Texas, I had actually quit blowing glass. But, there is so much art here, and so many people making art, that after I had been here a few years, I started to feel like I wasn’t doing what I was meant to be doing. In 1999, I decided to quit my job and start a studio. It’s been 16 years of running a studio in St. Augustine now. I used to say I would never live by the beach but now living near it has had a huge effect on my work. A lot of my work speaks about the water – how light refracts and moves through it.
Even the names of the patterns are influenced by it. A teal-green color I call “Key Green” because it was inspired by being in the keys and looking down in the water. The colors change as you go deeper – brighter blues on the top that fade to greens.
Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve created?
I have a lot of favorites. I’ve been making glass for more than 30 years, with a little break in between. The ones that are my favorites are usually the weird things that I make for myself. Because I work on commission now, I have clients that expect a certain look. When I’m not doing commission, I tend to make things that pop out of my head.
My favorite piece is funky and pop art, and appeals to me as an artist every bit as much as the other work, and even more because it has a message. That, to me, is a very important piece in my development. It’s not the kind of thing that is readily marketable, but who cares?
Do you have advice for others who haven’t yet discovered an artistic talent?
Just be open. For me, once I did it there was no going back.
If you stumble upon something that you’re good at, that you have a natural affinity for, and that you enjoy, then drop everything and do it because you’re not going to get another chance.
It’s about making the decision that this is what you’re going to do. It’s about what’s in your mind. If you decide to do it, you will do it. As long as you believe that you can — and there’s no reason to believe that you can’t. You look around and see people doing amazing things all over the place, so why can’t you?
Visit www.ThomasLongGlass.com to see Thomas’s work, join the studio’s mailing list, find out about special events, open houses, and to set up a private studio appointment. You can also see his wife’s paintings at www.LahibJaddo.com.