In glass houses
Burnt Knuckle Glass
Burnt Knuckle Glass1236 Glendale Ave.
Sparks, NV 89431
Glass occupies an odd place in artistic practice, caught somewhere between folk tradition and kitsch. Some practitioners try to steer this craft toward the avant garde, but even as a few have found success with institutional curators, glass, for the most part, has remained a medium of craft. Thus, unfettered by the bonds of what has been called “cynical” art criticism, glass flourishes as repose for functional and decorative whimsy, delighting in unrestrained color and novel concoctions.
In Sparks, at the end of Industrial Way at Glendale Avenue, Burnt Knuckle Glass is what you might expect a glass studio to be. On my visit, tables and shelves were overrun by hundreds of glass pieces in any and all colors you might desire, ranging from unwieldy bowls to sturdy-looking pumpkins to exceedingly delicate little spiders. Amid torches and furnaces aglow in the shop’s work spaces, I watched a small glass sphere manipulated under a flame, which resembled an Apollo capsule reentering the atmosphere, and I quickly became aware of the level of accumulated knowledge and skill required for this kind of work. The people at Burnt Knuckle know what they’re doing. Self-described materials nerds, about half a dozen artists work out of the shop, most trading work for studio time with owner and founder Ryan Adams.
With a bachelor’s in Material Science and Engineering from the University of Nevada, Reno, Adams is happy to talk coefficients of expansion as Johnny Cash plays in the background. He’s largely self-taught when it comes to glass but has studied with California artist Loren Stump and Italian artist Pino Signoretto. Adams opened Burnt Knuckle Glass in 2008 and produces work for charities, private parties, galleries, designers and other artists. You can find some of his vases in the gift shop at the Nevada Museum of Art, and if you made it to Burning Man, you may have picked up one of the studio’s glass pendants. It’s a prolific output, driven largely by the time-sensitive nature of this material. As Adams puts it, once you set out to work “There’s not a whole lot of chance you won’t end up making something.”
For my part, I made a paperweight. Adams and two of his colleagues are also glass working instructors, teaching private and group lessons to anyone all who may be interested. You might assume the learning curve would be steep, but before you know it, you’re right in the thick of things—standing in front of that 2,000 degree furnace when the door opens is like stepping outside for the first time at the Phoenix airport. But if you can stand the heat, gathering and shaping molten glass at the end of a 4-and-a-half-feet, metal rod gets comfortable in surprisingly little time.
After just one lesson, I feel ready to knock out paperweights with the best of ’em—though, working something the size of a fist into a clumsy, solid lump does give me more respect for when the Burnt Knuckle crew starts shaping a complex, hollow mass the size of a pineapple.
For all they do, Burnt Knuckle’s greatest asset is their openness. These people clearly love their craft and are more than happy to share. The focus may be on glass blowing, but the studio also handles fusing, casting and slumping, and it continues to research new techniques.