Too hot to handle

Carole and William Hutchison

Experimenting with new processes of glassmaking have helped make Carole Hutchison, along with her husband, William, one of the area’s finest glass artists.

Experimenting with new processes of glassmaking have helped make Carole Hutchison, along with her husband, William, one of the area’s finest glass artists.

Photo By David Robert

“At 1,650 degrees, glass is like cold honey,” glass artist William Hutchison explains.

He’s explaining how he and his wife, Carole, made a glossy black tile, about a foot square, with softly rounded corners and liquid-white swirls. After the raw materials—hard-edged slabs of glass—reach cold-honey temperature in the kiln, they draw into the smeary surface with a “rake,” a stainless steel pointer that glows red as they push the molten glass around.

They say glass isn’t too difficult to work with. It just requires some know-how, precision—and a tolerance for glowing-hot materials. Maybe it’s no coincidence that William is the volunteer fire chief in Genoa, where they live, and Carole has fought fires for the Bureau of Land Management. (One of their artistic casualties, caused by cooling the glass too fast, is a cracked-in-half tile that depicts a burnt-out forest.)

Even if the process is straightforward, some of the Hutchisons’ finished pieces look like they were formed using the laws of alchemy or magic rather than just plain physics. A large, cobalt-blue bowl is made of sake bottles melted flat and fused together. ("A local Japanese restaurant saves them for us,” Carole says.) White, porous bowls with a surface texture like a sugar cube are made from crushed glass. Neatly organized bins of old storm windows will be reincarnated as sets of dinner plates.

Carole took her first glass workshop in 1989, after retiring from a career in dental hygiene. She wanted to study it in more depth, but no area college offers a degree in glassmaking, so she patchworked together a course of study at Sierra Nevada College. She majored in photography, took glass workshops elsewhere for SNC credit and earned her BFA in 2000.

Her thesis project showcases both mediums, as well as William’s woodworking expertise. (He studied under a Czech woodworker in Pennsylvania in the 1960s.) It’s a four-foot-long wooden kaleidoscope. A motor slowly spins one of several interchangeable glass discs at one end, and mirrors inside create giant, swirling images. The first discs they made were decorated with photo negatives, the newer ones with colored glass.

“To say that we have a style or a design—not necessarily,” says Carole. They get their design influences just about anywhere. William, who picked up glass-fusing techniques from Carole, likes to shoot photos while diving in the ocean. Textures and colors from his surreal-looking reefs and sea creatures are echoed in some of their glass pieces.

Carole and William, who usually work as a team, would rather continue to experiment with new processes than focus on just one type of glassmaking.

Their projects-in-progress include a glass fountain, a handmade sink and a series of coasters that fit together like a puzzle. While these all have a polished design sense, none has yet been put into production. The only place for the public to see the Hutchisons’ work this summer is at Sierra Nevada College, where they’re participating in an exhibit and will give a slideshow presentation next week. They also teach summer glass workshops there.

Even with their combined years of experience and their status as the region’s experts on glass slumping and fusing, Carole points out that there are always new techniques and designs to explore.

“We’re only scratching the surface here,” she says.