Glassblower Agnes Sanchez tells the secrets of the fire, and her dance

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Agnes Sanchez knew she wanted to be a glassblower from the first time she saw a demonstration. "I kept telling my pops that this was it," she says. "I talked about it all the time. He was finally like, 'Stop talking about it and do it.'" Now she has an extensive body of work -- she makes vases, awards, the "Eternal Light" for Beth Synagogue in Evergreen, lamp shades, chandeliers, and little memorial pieces, made with the ashes of cremated loved ones.

Sanchez also teaches classes -- which is normally the only way to sneak a peak into her workshop. But she let us behind the door for a minute, and told us about what makes her art "Italian-style," how she gets the color for her pieces and why she's got the special glassblowing dance moves.

How did you get started in glassblowing?

I started the studio in 1999, and I began blowing glass in 1994. I learned from an artist in Breckenridge, at Fine Line Studios and Gallery. I apprenticed for about a year there. I saw glassblowing there for the first time, and I decided that's what I wanted to do. I couldn't get it out of my mind after that. Then, I worked for a production company here in Denver, that's no longer in business, for about three years. I started building my own shop when they were going out of business because I knew that if I didn't I was either never going to do it again, or I was going to have to go to Europe to do it.

Do you have an apprentice now?

I have an apprentice now who's been with me a year. Sooner or later, I hope he does a little bit of production for me. If you look around here, I don't have a lot of production in my shop. I am unique in that way. I do a lot of custom pieces for clients.

Have you taken any formal classes?

Really, the apprenticeship, and then I took a few workshops in Italy, and I took some classes there as well. I spent some of my time in Europe working a little bit and I took some workshops in Barcelona. The experience opened up my eyes and showed me some different techniques.

There are hardly any more universities that offer this kind of an art. It's an old school art. I think that this kind of a process really take a life time to learn. I'm still learning the glass. The glass has a personality of its own and believe it or not we're playing with five elements of the earth -- sand, fire, water, air, and your own breath. And you are tapping into five out of your six senses. Glassblowing uses your right and left brain at the same time, too. It takes a while to master that, and to master the fire.

Is everything done in one stage?

It is all in one stage--everything is done hot. I would say you have about half an hour to forty-five minutes until the piece starts to crack.

Do pieces crack a lot?

With glass you have to know in your heart that it will fall on the floor and be a floor piece sometimes. And it may crack. The weather has a lot to do with how the glass comes out. How dry it is in Colorado, or how the weather changes from hot to cold -- both factor into the glass. I have to make sure that my system in the back is compatible with Colorado, and I have to make sure that my recipes consistent with the weather.

Do you have your own recipe?

Yes. It includes sand and lime soda. A lot of us artists have our own recipe that we learned. Whether we've learned it from some maestros in Europe, or somewhere else.

What is your process like? Do you use a lot of tools?

I really let the glass and the fire connect as one, and I let the glass and fire tell me what to do with it. So it makes me fast on my feet, and it makes me a multi-tasker. A lot of the times I don't plan. I am very free form and my art is always moving.

How do you get the colors?

We have a variety of different sorts of color -- we have long bars of colors and chips of color. All of our color comes from Europe. It's colored glass, and obviously the chemists in Europe start it from sand -- from ashes to a beautiful piece, as they say. Our colors have to be compatible with the crystal. If it isn't, then the pieces crack.

What's the best part of glassblowing, for you?

It's the fire, and the dance. I actually use the fire to shape my pieces, and I don't really touch a lot of my pieces with tools. I use gravity and movement to shape my art. That's what I believe makes them free form, or Italian style. I love getting the pieces so orange that they are just breathing. People are like, "Oh my God, it looks alive." A lot of artists cannot do it. They don't have that special dance, like I do.

For more information about Sanchez's work, or to contact her, visit her webpage.

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