Kevin Chong, owner of San Jose’s Silica Valley Glass Studio, has a special relationship to fire. “Most people run away from fire,” he says. “I embrace it -- I play with it every day.”
In his 3,500-square-foot studio, Chong produces neon signs, commissioned blown glass work -- including lamps, chandeliers and glass awards -- and hundreds upon hundreds of pumpkins.
“Nothing’s off-limits for making a pumpkin,” Chong says. “That gives me so much freedom to explore color combinations, color techniques, glass-making techniques.”
At this year’s 21st annual Great Glass Pumpkin Patch in Palo Alto, Chong exhibited 800 glass pumpkins, ranging in price from $45 to $160. He also participated in four other local glass pumpkin festivals, from Carmel to Danville, showcasing his plump, sparkling wares for avid collectors up and down the peninsula.
Demand for the fragile and beautiful forms doesn’t seem to die down. “There’s people that collect hundreds of them,” Chong says.
Just two years ago, Chong’s career as a glass artist hung in the Bay Area real estate balance. After 24 years in his original location, his lease expired and he began a stressful months-long search for a new location to suit his specific needs.
“In this valley, to have my own hot shop, it’s very difficult,” he says. Chong’s furnace runs at 2100 degrees Fahrenheit and he pays $30,000 in utilities alone each year.
In his current studio at the edge of downtown San Jose, he describes the pleasure of shaping glass as a dance between the artist and the material. His love affair with glass began in high school, when he took a stained glass class. In his early 20s, he studied neon at trade school in Portland, Oregon, later attending San Jose State’s glassblowing program.
And he’s not done learning about his trade. Chong routinely travels to Corning, New York to study with visiting instructors from Murano, the traditional home of Italy’s fanciest glassware.
“I wake up excited to start my day playing with glass,” Chong says. “It awakens all your senses.” – Sarah Hotchkiss