Filip Vogelpohl likes to make marbles. And if you twist his arm, he may admit he's an artist. He is content receiving little fanfare at all despite being a talented glass artist and one of the first to attempt creation of a five-inch Borosilicate Vortex marble. Borosilicate is hard, Pyrex glass, like a cake pan, and very heavy. Wearing a protective suit and full mask, Vogelpohl spends over eight hours in front of a 2,300-degree torch forging a giant marble.
"It takes the marble two weeks to cool completely since its core cools so much slower then the outside, and I'll take at least that much time to recover from the effort I put into making it. It's really grueling," Vogelpohl said. He has successfully crafted this type of marble 14 times and recently bought a bigger torch in anticipation of future ambitions.
Twenty-seven-year-old Vogelpohl is originally from Prague in the Czech Republic. His family fled communism in 1986 and came to the refugee center in Boise. Vogelpohl learned English, lost his accent and now passes for an Idaho native. He has studied under some of the world's finest glass artists like Cesare Toffolo, a fifth-generation Italian lamp worker.
"This man's dedication to glass spans generations, and when I watched him work it was like the glass was part of him, he manipulated it so easily," said Vogelpohl, who enjoys taking a vision from his head and translating it into glass. Two notable examples of Vogelpohl's vision are a solar system comprised of various marbles and a school of 112 tiny fish swimming through a seascape, accompanied by six angelfish, two crabs and an octopus guarding a treasure chest.
"There are no set rules to manage how glass will behave," said Vogelpohl. "I've spent time learning different techniques, but there isn't a step-by-step sheet that will guarantee a successful octopus or dragon. It's exciting and frustrating to invest your time in a project that can fail at any stage."
First Class Glass is Vogelpohl's roomy studio and classroom where he exposes new artists to the ancient craft of lamp work.
"I spent my time in college going after a business and marketing degree. I figured I'd work for some big corporation somewhere, and I sure didn't think I would ever be a teacher," he said.
Vogelpohl's studio is one of few local venues where someone with a curiosity for glass can take a class to learn basic lamp working techniques on the cheap.
"Glass working is a very cost prohibitive hobby. It takes a certain amount of time and patience, and there's a learning curve you can't just skip. It's an experimental art; you've got to waste some glass to get good," Vogelpohl said.
His youngest student is 12 years old. "I didn't feel real comfortable having someone that young around all this equipment," Vogelpohl said, "but her dad agreed to take the class with her--and she's surpassing him nearly every step of the way." Vogelpohl's youngest "unofficial" student is his five-year-old daughter who likes to help daddy "blow bubbles" during her visits to the studio.
Vogelpohl's shop is a success after just over a year in operation. He taught 24 students in six months and has two full-time apprentices.
"I like the current size of my operation--barely manageable--but I think it would be cool to have a dedicated team of glass blowers to work with me," he said. Vogelpohl plans to continue teaching but will likely be occupying a new studio space downtown later this year. Vogelpohl says he likes having his own shop and having things his way, and while he worries a bit about giving up his autonomy, he has accepted mosaic artist Reham Jacobson's invitation to share her Mosaic Essential studio space on Main Street. Both artists believe their art is best appreciated when customers can take part in the process.
Vogelpohl is sure to benefit from a space that allows him to work in front of windows where people can watch and participate in his glass blowing.
"Plus there will be a lot of options for people who visit the space. You can mosaic, learn to blow glass or visit a bunch of different artist's studio spaces downstairs. It'll be a neat collaboration," he said.
When reminded of the availability of mass-produced glass art like paperweights available at mega-chain stores, Vogelpohl quickly offered some advice for anyone looking to purchase and collect glass.
"Stay away from Wal-Mart type paperweights that come out of the same box looking exactly the same. Those things are made by overseas laborers making pennies an hour. The best way to ensure you are buying the real deal that will have some value in the future is attend to juried art shows. Artists who participate in those have to submit slides and an artistic resume in order to be admitted," he said. Vogelpohl also said he digs it when people take time to look at and ask questions about his art. But beware; he's tired of fielding inquiries about pipe making. The answer is: "No! I don't make pipes."
Drop in and watch Vogelpohl make marbles, goblets, bracelets, rings and much more at 4869 Malad St. just off Orchard and I-84 behind Hertz Car Sales. The studio is open Wednesday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m. For more information, call 345-1825 or visit www.glassitup.com.