Back in Time
Grapevine shops bringing
ancient art into the present
By John Newton
Assistant Managing Editor
(Published on February 14, 2003.)
Jim White pounds away at an iron rod inside his Ole Village Blacksmith Shop in the Heritage Center, molding it into brackets.
Meanwhile, David Gappa gently molds a ball of molten glass at his Vetro Glassblowing Studio, creating a beautiful globe with flower petal ends.
When one meets the other, a beautiful partnership is formed, combining the strength of iron with the delicacy of glass to form a wall oil lamp – one of several items created by a growing partnership between the two unique Grapevine shops.
Both Mr. White and Mr. Gappa work in professions that are thousands of years old, making the partnership even more special.
“It’s really been quite interesting because (Mr. White) basically is doing something that’s been around for hundreds and hundreds of years, and so are we,” said Laura Hayes, Vetro’s marketing director. “So that makes it very interesting, putting two ancient forms together at this day and time. But it works quite well.”
Mr. Gappa owns Vetro and works with Laura Hayes’ husband, Gary, as the Barton Street business’s primary glassmakers.
Mr. White said having both ancient crafts in the same location is not an everyday occurrence.
“It is very unusual, really, to have something like that,” Mr. White said. “It’s kind of (neat) how the glass blowers and blacksmiths have evolved through the machine age, and now we’re into the computer age, and they still have a place in the marketplace today.”
Mr. Gappa said his studio and Mr. White have just started to work together, saying their working relationship is in the “prototypical” stage. The first project was a wall-hanging oil lamp that Mr. White made iron brackets for.
“But the sky’s the limit right now,” Mr. Gappa said. “We’re just in the process of looking at hiring some people [to do glass blowing] and hopefully we’re going to start pursuing some of these ideas.”
Those ideas include making knives with iron handles and glass insets, iron tables with glass components, and more lamps. Not only has each shop developed a working relationship with the other, each shop has also developed a strong respect for the other’s work.
“People who are able to do blacksmithing are few and far between,” Ms. Hayes said. “People who are able to do the hand-blown art glass are few and far between – same scenario. So for both of us to have ended up in the same city has actually been a boon to both of us, I think.”
She listed numerous similarities between the two ancient crafts, including the use of large amounts of heat, handcrafted nature, same crafting technique, and use of raw materials.
“Glass, in its original state, is sand,” she said.
Mr. Gappa sees differences in the way the iron art and glass art are created.
“His would be a much more aggressive form of art, actually pounding the (material) into shape,” he said. “Whereas, our form would be perhaps more delicate. We almost have to move with the glass more so than I would think he would (with iron). He kind of forces his shape to happen, whereas our shapes often tend to take their own form.”
Mr. Gappa said historians attribute the founding of glass to the Phoenicians, who would make bonfires on the beach that would last for days. The fire’s coals would take in enough heat to raise the temperature to 1500-2000 degrees and solidify some of the sand into glass.
From there glass making was picked up by the Egyptians, who made art pieces, like beads.
Over the years, certain metals were found to cause colorations in the glass, including gold (red color), cobalt (blue), and silver (green, blue). Now, small-time glass making is more of an artistic venture than practical, Ms. Hayes said.
Mr. White said that in the Bronze Age blacksmiths made bronze hatchets and knives, and in the Iron Age swords and armor.
“Sometimes the school kids ask me how long blacksmithing’s been around,” he said, “and I said, ‘Well, kids, if you think back to the Roman soldiers’ days, the blacksmiths made the spears and swords, and repaired the chariots. In the colonial days, the blacksmiths made the ship anchors, the chains and the hinges for the colonists.’”
Now, Mr. White and fellow blacksmiths make smaller items, like pots and pans, or tools and railings.
A number of blacksmiths converged on Vetro Saturday afternoon during the monthly meeting of the North Texas Blacksmiths Association in Grapevine.
Mr. White said he wanted the regional club to see Mr. Gappa and Mr. Hayes at work.
“I’ve always tried to schedule this so we could maybe go up to the glass blowers and see them work their gas furnace and do some glass work for the guys,” he said.
The glass-blowing duo normally works Tuesday and Thursday nights from 6-10 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Neither one does it for a living. Mr. Gappa is an architect and Mr. Hayes an environmental manager.
Mr. Gappa said the glassblowing studio closes down over the summer months, giving everyone who works there a chance to rest, and he and Mr. Hayes a chance to recharge their creativity.
“It gets a little too warm in Texas for our bodies,” he said with a chuckle.
One major project the studio hopes to complete this summer is the building of a new furnace. Ms. Hayes said the plans are being researched right now, and Mr. Gappa and Mr. Hayes hope to build it by hand.
Visitors are always welcome at the studio during operating hours, Ms. Hayes said.
She said ever since Vetro was written about in the December issue of Southern Living magazine, people have been flocking to the studio from all over. She said one lady took off a Thursday afternoon and drove up from Austin just to sit and watch the intriguing glass-making process.
She said there have been large crowds watching Mr. Gappa and Mr. Hayes work on weekends. Spectators are always invited to stop by, she said.
“We’ve always had an open door policy whenever we are there and we’re working.”
Assistant Managing Editor John Newton can be reached at 817-488-8561 or email@example.com