At a time
when many designers/artists leave the crafting of their
designs to apprentices, fellow craftsmen, or even a
factory style setting, it is rare for the designer to
continue as the maker. For me working directly with
the glass is a time of zen, a period when I can concentrate
on one thing only, the glass, a time to leave the rest
of the world behind.
I see my work belonging to a contemporary line of the
"decorative arts" that developed from the
arts and crafts movement where craftsmanship is of the
utmost importance. Striving for the "perfect object"
is the goal of the craftsman/designer and working directly
with the materials at hand provides the greatest satisfaction
most important aspects of glassmaking are light, color
and form. I want my work to take advantage of the luminous
quality of light. Light coming through the glass reveals
texture and pattern and casts colors and shadows so
the glass work interacts with its environment and becomes
a pure visual feast. The jewel like colors of glass,
the individual forms of the pieces and the light from
within work as a group and function as a chorus like
a choir of voices. The fluidity of glass is expressed
in the curvalinear forms. And the voluptuousness of
glass is expressed in the globular melon shapes that
are ready to burst with ripeness
Pennebaker is a multi talented artist. Not only does
he earn a living creating beautiful glass work, his
talents are evident in most everything he does. Pennebaker
lives on a mountaintop. The grounds surrounding his
home and studio are immaculately groomed. Simple touches,
such as a garden gate woven from vines and branches
and adorned with whimsical bobbles, make visitors feel
they have entered an enchanted land. Everywhere you
look, there are creative touches to enhance the natural
beauty of the land. Pennebaker's handbuilt home is an
expression of love. He lavished his attention on every
detail, from round glass panes inset into kitchen cupboards,
to the branch and vine railings leading to an upstairs
sanctuary. Even the shingle roof on his home displays
a combination of colors laid out in pleasing patterns
to welcome the weary eye. Paintings, silk screen images,
and full-blown framed photographs liven the walls of
home and studio.
are Pennebaker originals. His artistic expressions are
everywhere. A seemingly simple and quiet man, Pennebaker
is modest about his accomplishments. In 1993, he was
honored to be included in the "White House Collection
of American Crafts". His glass work was part of
a collection selected for exhibition at the White House.
The collection has since traveled to the Smithsonian
Institution and other museums nationwide. He was also
named on of Early American Homes magazine's "Best
Traditional Craftsmen" for his work with traditional
tools and techniques of Early America. Pennebaker has
retained this honor for the past eleven years.
a child, Pennebaker loved to draw. He expanded his skills
to include air brush designs and oil and paper creations.
Photography followed and his artistic talents knew no
earned a Masters Degree in Art at Emporia State University
in Kansas majoring in printmaking with an emphasis on
silk screen design. It wasn't until he was involved
with an "Artist-in-the-Schools" program that
Pennebaker learned glass work. "I began making
glass with the high school art instructor in Liberal,
Kansas in 1980", Pennebaker said. "It began
as a past time since he only ran the furnace during
winter weekends. But it got me interested and I chanced
upon a job in Ohio at a historic village that I visited
while on a motorcycle trip in 1983." The historical
influence from Ohio is evident in his work. Some of
the designs are derived from American glass of the early
1800's. Items like flasks, bottles, candlesticks, ornaments
and vases show a very traditional style.
work has improved over the years," Pennebaker said.
"I offer some pieces with more sophisticated designs
and add a few new pieces each year." Just recently,
Pennebaker created a new type of oil lamp that features
a custom made wick holder, unlike any other.
works year round in his studio. "I stay home in
the winter to build up inventory. The furnace gets shut
down in the summer but I still have plenty of other
work to do." Packing orders, rebuilding equipment,
organizing materials, an thousands of other thankless
tasks get accomplished during this time. Pennebaker
prefers to say he's a "glassmaker" instead
of a "glassblower". The term glassblower has
been used and misused so much that it carries very little
specific meaning. "Most people associate the term
glassblower with a person who melts rods of premade
glass to form items working at a torch," he explained.
"The specific title for that type of glassworker
is 'lampworker'. Lampworking is a glass technique that
is very different from what I do. It requires a different
set of skills." Most of Pennebaker's products are
made by gathering molten glass out of a glass furnace
then blowing and shaping it with hand tools. "I
start with the raw materials that are melted to make
a batch of glass. The materials (a mixture of silica,
soda ash, lime and small amounts of other minerals)
are melted inside a furnace fired with natural gas.
The furnace is similar to a ceramic kiln except that
the glass furnace runs constantly at about 1,900 to
2,000 degrees. The temperature is even hotter when a
batch of glass is being melted, up to 2,350 degrees."
he explained. Pennebaker uses a hollow pipe to blow
into and inflate the glass. "But it takes very
little air," he said. Most of the work involved
is using tools to shape the glass. "I use a set
of large tong-like tools called 'jacks' to squeeze and
shape the glass and wooden paddles to shape the sides
and flatten the bottom." Although the shaping of
the glass is a quick process, the preparation and finish
time is lengthy. "It takes a full day to shovel
the batch ingredients into the furnace and melt them,"
Pennebaker explained. "Then, each finished piece
has to cool slowly in an oven from 1,000 degrees down
to room temperature." This cooling is called anealing
and takes twelve to fifteen hours.
of his work is shipped off to the northeastern part
of the United States and sold through museum galleries
and gift shops. Wholesale orders make up 80 to 90 percent
of his business. He finds the autumn months are the
busiest time of the year. "From mid Sepetmber to
the first week in December, I am real busy. That's when
I get a lot of orders and I'm doing shows."
prefers to attend a few select shows each year to stay
in touch with the buying public and draw inspiration
from other artists. "It's good to meet other craftspeople
and see what they're doing," he explained. "Seeing
what colors and items are selling, and learning what
people are getting excited about is important."
shows offer Pennebaker an opportunity to showcase one-of-a-kind
contemporary art pieces as well. His "Sun Discs"
made with a glass disc and one or more glass droplets,
are available along with hanging sculptural "Clusters".