Hot glass, cold beer

Glass artist returns to Chico for annual Oktoberfest demo at Sierra Nevada

Roberta Eichenberg puts on a glass-blowing show for Oktoberfest revelers.

Roberta Eichenberg puts on a glass-blowing show for Oktoberfest revelers.

Photo by Saunthy Nicolson-Singh

Glass show:
Sierra Nevada’s Oktoberfest—with glass-blowing demo—continues this week. Saturday’s event is sold out, but there are still tickets ($51.50) for Friday, Oct. 7, 5-10 p.m.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
1075 E. 20th St.

Beer and hot glass may seem a strange pairing, but at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s Oktoberfest celebration, it’s a perfect match. While revelers dance around to polkas and toast the fall harvest, artists blow molten glass into goblets, beer mugs and growlers and sell them to the partiers to raise money for charity.

Organized by local artist Jeff Lindsay and his Red Hot Metal studio, the glass-blowing demo has become a fixture at the annual event. And at last week’s opening weekend, Roberta Eichenberg flew halfway across the country to demonstrate her glass-blowing skills, which were born in the 1980s during her time in the Chico State glass studio. Now an art professor at Emporia State University in Kansas, Eichenberg marks this as her fourth glass-blowing demo at Sierra Nevada.

On Saturday (Oct. 1), in the hop fields next to brewery, the heat from the “glory hole” furnace kept her warm on the chilly night, and Eichenberg seemed to be enjoying herself as she shaped mugs as attendees watched.

During her time at Chico State, where she received both a bachelor’s and master’s in art, Eichenberg worked at Orient and Flume Art Glass, and made fast friends with Lindsay, who was then a tech at the studio. Fast-forward to 2008, when Lindsay, working as a Chico art commissioner, began to assemble artists to blow glass at Sierra Nevada events.

“Jeff contacted me the first time and it was really fun,” Eichenberg recalled. Plus, she added, “I reconnected with a bunch of friends,” including Lynn Facchini, Robert Herhusky, Bruce Sellers, Rick Satava, all Chico glass artists, some of whom had been her fellow students at Chico State.

The Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Wash., has a mobile glass studio that Lindsay rents for the event, Eichenberg explained. “It has two glory holes, annealers, a wooden platform and two benches to make small pieces.

“The glass is auctioned off as it’s being blown,” she added. This year, guest auctioneers from the Chikoko artist collective helped sell the glass art, the proceeds of which will go to the soon-to-open Museum of Northern California Art.

A Redlands native, Eichenberg was encouraged to follow art by her mother, who was a painter, and she said she ended up at Chico State almost as an afterthought.

“Some friends of my sister were going to Chico for school. I went with them. I started a week late and begged Mike Monahan, the Art Department chair in 1976, to let me in,” Eichenberg said. “I started out in painting and drawing.” But molten glass entranced Eichenberg, and she was lured into focusing on glass-blowing.

She spent eight years in Chico before making her way to Ohio State, to work on a master’s in fine arts, and eventually on to working at the esteemed Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Wash.

Eichenberg has been at Emporia State for 16 years, and she continues to show her glass pieces in both group and solo exhibitions around the country. Her art reveals an expansion of vision, juxtaposing other materials like jute and plastic tubing to highlight and contrast the transparent hardness of glass, and emphasizing a sense of movement. She’s expanded her scope beyond blown work to encompass cast glass and slumped glass as well.

As busy as she is, Eichenberg is happy to make the trek back to Chico to demo glass (although she was able to stay for only the first weekend of Oktoberfest) and see old friends.

“Yeah, I could move back,” she admitted. “It’s so familiar. I had fun in college.”