“I hope to be blowing glass until I die,” says Leon Applebaum. The seasoned glassblower talks about glass with the same amount of gravity he puts into creating it. “It’s not a hobby,” he adds.
Leon’s creations begin with a clear idea; then, he experiments with the glass until he sees something he likes. The general style is contemporary. “Each piece is an interplay of my efforts, the material and the process.” He says his approach is greatly influenced by the time he spent in Sweden, where he studied glassmaking alongside a master glassmaker at the Orrefors Glass School. Thick, massive glass pieces using transparent colors are his specialty.
“I am inspired by the glass itself,” he explains. “The material is so rich and plastic and hot. And so challenging. The act of blowing the glass is the most inspiring part of the process.”
Growing up in glass city
Leon grew up in Toledo, Ohio, a center for glass production in the 1950s. “It was where the modern studio glass movement started,” he says. As a child, he’d visit the Toledo Museum of Art, and stare into the display of tools used to work glass. He became curious. “I felt myself drawn to the blowpipes and the jacks and the shears. I had never seen glassblowing.”
Later on, he attended the University of Toledo as an art education student. He added a glass class to his schedule and was hooked. He decided he wanted to be a glassmaker. After transplanting to Boston in 1969, Leon finished his degree in art education at the Massachusetts College of Art. He started a glass program at the school, and upon graduating, was offered a scholarship to the Peabody College of Vanderbilt in Nashville to get his master’s degree, also in art education.
“I was the assistant to the glass professor there,” he tells me. “Then, when I graduated, he went on sabbatical and I took over his role as professor for a year. When he returned, I went to Sweden to study glassmaking at the Orrefors.”
Finding the Finger Lakes
Upon his return from Sweden, ambition running through his veins, Leon attended the Master of Fine Arts glass program at the Rochester Institute of Technology. During the summer, he’d travel to Naples to teach at the Naples Mill School, “a craft school that was very popular in the 1970s, but unfortunately closed in 1979.”
He fell in love with the area, and moved into his current home in Prattsburgh, where he built his permanent studio – Sahaj Glass Studio.
When not in his studio he can be found on Keuka Lake in his boat with his wife Sahaj, “my partner in glass and in life.” It’s usually in those peaceful moments that he gets a lot of his ideas.
Leon also credits his son Eli for his creations. “He makes the glass with me, and is my partner in crime here at the studio.” Leon’s studio manager Scott Dekay and assistant Gary Sprague are also essential elements of the glass team.
A journey, not a destination
“I have two furnaces that stay hot all the time,” explains Leon. “Each one holds about 175 pounds of glass. I melt the glass at 2,200 degrees; the working temperature is about 2,000.” The glass is reheated and reworked, reheated and reworked. Ovens called glory holes are used to reheat the glass and keep it workable.
Once the glass is blown, it’s put it into computer-controlled annealing ovens to cool. “It takes about two days for the glass to cool down to room temperature. After that, we do cold working on the glass – we cut it, polish it and sculpt it. Then, when we are finished, it goes up into the packing room.
“I create a variety of pieces, but I tend to work with really large pieces,” he continues. “I like the challenge of working big. It seems the older I get, the more I want to challenge myself to prove I can still do it.” The final products range in price from $60 to $6,000 based on the size and effort that went into producing the artwork.
When I asked Leon about his most memorable piece, he responded, “The next one I make. The glass leads me on a journey, whereas one idea turns into another idea, and it just kind of flows. I can’t wait to make that next piece because it will be better than the last one.”
To see Leon’s glass art, visit his website leonapplebaum.com. For more information, or to purchase a piece of his art, he can be reached at 607-522-4334.
Upcoming Shows to See Leon’s Work
Arts Center of Yates County
The Flick Gallery
127 Main St., Penn Yan
Naples Open Studio Trail
For more information, contact Linda Pownall-Carlson at 585-554-6019
by Alyssa LaFaro