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Blowing Into Town

Steven Lundberg
Robert Scheer

Glass Act: Steven Lundberg grand opens his new art-glass studio Saturday.

Art-glass designer and glassblower extraordinaire Steven Lundberg moves his expertise into a new Santa Cruz studio

By Christina Waters

STICKY AND SENSUOUS, THE HOT crystal peels away from the lip of a newborn goblet like iridescent taffy. Pliant for a few brief moments after leaving the furnace, the glass quickly freezes in the early summer air. This is work that requires the eye of a surgeon and the speed of a hacker. Blowing glass is not for the faint of heart. So if Steven Lundberg speaks right up about the long hours, the hard work and the international success his art glass has involved, no one will fault him.

Younger brother to the late Jim Lundberg--the celebrated co-founder of Davenport's Lundberg Studios--Steven has made a bold move into his own spotlight with this week's opening of Steven Lundberg Contemporary Art Glass on the studio gold coast of Mission Street Extension. Long deliberation and six months of arduous outfitting of the new studio led to a streamlined space from which Lundberg ships high-end paperweights, vases, stemware and jewelry to galleries and dealers around the world.

At a side workstation, glass artist and masked machinist Owen Dodge coaxes metal into a production template, his torch creating a shock wave of noise and 10-foot showers of sparks. In a clean, skylighted room off to one corner, another craftsman using diamond polishing wheels reveals mirror-like surfaces, facets and shimmering bases on spheres of crystal.

Lundberg's 20-year-old son, Justin, assists master blower Jose Menendez, who, after training in the legendary studios of Guadalajara, works half the day with glass artist Rick Strini and the other half at the new Lundberg facility. The two artists work swiftly before a computerized array of state-of-the-art furnaces.

Still negotiating to purchase his interest in the original Lundberg Studios, Steven is reluctant to discuss gritty details of his departure. But he does mention that he feels glad to be back in a creative environment.

The unique torch-work technique that Lundberg has perfected, allowing him to essentially "draw" with molten, colored glass, has resulted in showcases filled with a fabulous menagerie of monarch butterflies, graceful Japanese koi and night-blooming exotics. The monarchs, captured in crystal, fly among blue-green eucalyptus leaves--all fashioned out of glass. And each one-of-a-kind piece is made by hand.

The Corning Museum, the White House, the Smithsonian, Gump's--Lundberg's recent work does tend to show up here and there, he'll admit with a boyish grin.

The grin emerges increasingly as the hard work of opening his studio is almost complete. "Yeah, it is like starting over," he says, "Of course, I have 600 clients waiting for orders." He grins again.

"We worked our asses off, but I'm just so enthused," he readily admits, pausing in front of a front-gallery case filled with necklaces of handblown beads fit for a Venetian duchess. "I've got my family here--Justin and my wife, Ola, who makes the jewelry and runs the office."

It's hard not to watch the ancient artform in the studio over his shoulder--the hypnotic process of dipping the rods into small ovens, affectionately called "glory holes" in the trade, to reheat the glass for more manipulation. The glass is practically alive with its own unruly energy--especially in that magical shape-shifting state between liquid and solid.

The master blower must stand up to this mysterious substance, all the while knowing that with the least shift in temperature or misstep in chemical balance, the hours of labor can shatter back into mere broken glass.

With the official grand opening scheduled for Saturday, Steven Lundberg can begin to make plans for the rest of his life--the big gift shows on the East Coast, an offer to build a gallery for art-glass masters in Japan and continuing with his own work that includes continuous design of new pieces, as well as some day-to-day glass blowing.

"If I could get along without food or sleep," he chuckles, "I'd get a lot more done."

Steven Lundberg Contemporary Art Glass' grand opening takes place on Sat. (10am­5pm) at 2716 Mission St. Extension, SC, 429-4166.

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From the June 12-18, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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