This group of artists has an unbreakable bond with its medium

“The biggest excitement of glass is to design and build and get to see a final project in 24 hours. That’s the whole reason I got into it,” says neighborhood resident Rees Bowen. In Bowen’s day job as an architect, it takes years to complete a project.

Bowen has been doing studio glass since 1990, when he created Spiral Glass Inc. with fellow artist Cathy McClure, who’s now a metal/sculpture artist in Seattle.

Nowadays, five artists are involved with the company: Bowen, John Pierce, Matt Hare, Brigid Kroener and Bowen’s fellow East Dallasite, Raina Hoover.

Most of the work they do is commissioned. Some of their more notable corporate clients include Neiman Marcus and Celebrity Bakery.

Artists at Spiral Glass have orchestrated designs for entire walls, created light fixtures, designed sculptures that hang from the ceiling — they’ve pretty much done it all, and all of their work is one of a kind.

One of their most recently completed projects can be found in the lobby of Trinity Medical Center in Fort Worth.

The job had the Spiral Glass artists working around a fish theme.

“There was a huge aquarium on one of the walls. So the installation concept is basically like the inside of an aquarium. The colors all relate back to the colors of the fish,” Bowen says.

After the project was completed, a doctor called Bowen to tell him the patients didn’t seem to mind waiting anymore.

“Working with a client and seeing them happy is the second reason I do it,” he says.

His career as an architect, he says, is helpful in keeping Spiral Glass busy. “It really gives me a lot of leads for glass projects.”

But even though Bowen brings in many of the projects initially, he points out that the entire process, from start to finish, can’t be done alone.

“It’s a big collaboration. The biggest thing about blown glass — it’s a team process,” he says.

Take Hoover, for example. Although she has been creating stained glass pieces for many years, she’s still in the process of learning how to do blown glass. So instead of taking on some of the more technical tasks, she plays a pivotal part in the planning and designing stages.

“It naturally evolved into my helping to come up with sketches,” she says.

Bowen says that when starting a new project, the artists visit the future space of an installation to get a feel for it. After talking with their commissioners, the artists come up with a concept and draw out a sketch.

From there, the job gets physical.

“It’s 2,400 degrees you’re working in front of,” Bowen says. “It’s like a dance, a sport. You have to know where everybody is, you have to be real instinctive — that takes a while to develop.”

Of course, as in any team effort, there has to be a leader, someone calling the shots. Most of the time that’s Bowen’s job.

“Everybody has different roles. I’m the gaffer. I make sure everybody is coordinated,” he says.

Over the years, Spiral Glass has done a wide variety of projects. But now that the group is building a reputation, Bowen and company have become a little more selective in the work they take on.

“We’re more interested in true art installations,” Bowen says. “It’s the artist’s flexibility we are really striving for right now.”

Bowen says he’s eager to begin the next big project on his plate, a 250-piece chandelier sculpture installation for a boutique casino expansion of Cypress Bayou Casino in Charenton, La.

The job enables Spiral Glass to move into a new, larger studio. The new space, Bowen says, will have a showroom where they can display partial installations. They’ll also be able to offer classes.

But there’s another reason Bowen is excited.

One of America’s best-known glass artists, Dale Chihuly, got his start on a casino, too.

“Once he did that, he took off. He brought glass above any level of glass artist in America,” says Bowen, trying to hold back a big grin.

Of course, Chihuly’s first casino was the Bellagio in Las Vegas — a little more notable than Cypress Bayou. But all the same, Bowen says he expects Spiral Glass’s work will take off after completion.

And if the casino thing doesn’t work out, Bowen and Spiral Glass have another potentially name-making deal on their hands.

Last year, they were invited to submit a piece for the White House. Though they haven’t heard back yet, if selected, the piece — a red, white and blue challis — will be housed with the White House’s permanent collection.

“It’s under review,” Bowen says. “Right now, there’s only one other glass artist who has been accepted, and that’s pretty exciting.”

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