When you’re an artist who lives 50 miles outside of Fayetteville in the middle of the woods with only a dog and a few cats to keep you company, your chances of being a little reserved are probably pretty high.
Ed Pennebaker, of Red Fern Glass, is a good example. He doesn’t say a whole lot and when he answers your questions, he’s fairly direct and very quiet.
One way to make up for it, though, is to let your art speak for itself. In Ed’s case, his glass work pretty much demands attention. In fact, I spent about 15 minutes just watching people’s faces as they noticed his work at First Thursday this month. First, they’d catch a glimpse of one of his chandeliers. Then they’d notice the sculptures. At that point, they were hooked and they’d grab whoever they were with and immediately walk inside the E Street Gallery to get a closer look.
Many years ago, I overheard someone say that Ed was a renaissance man. I was young enough to have never heard that term before, but when I looked it up, I thought, “Oh yeah, totally.”
If I sound biased, that’s because I am. Ed is my stepfather. But that’s not the only reason I’m excited to be profiling him here on the Flyer. I honestly love his stuff. Whether it’s a 600-piece chandelier he’s been commissioned to make, a bronze and glass tabletop sculpture he sold at a local gallery, or the bowl I eat my cereal out of each morning, I’m continuously amazed by Ed’s work.
Ed is a master of glass blowing, but that’s just the beginning. I won’t spoil it for you, though. There’s an entire interview to read below.
Fayetteville Flyer: What have you been listening to lately?
Ed Pennebaker: Effron White played at my recent “Glass Blowout”. I like to listen to local musicians when I can like Effron, Justin Brasher, Hogeye Ramblers, and 3 Penny Acre. A friend brought over a String Cheese Incident CD today and we listened to it while blowing glass. My recent playlist also includes David Gray, George Winston, Dave Brubeck, and Bela Fleck.
FF: Where do you like to eat when you come to town? Got any favorite hangouts?
EP: Little Bread Company is probably my favorite. Arsaga’s on Crossover for music and dessert sometimes. Also, Tim’s Pizza, Penguin Ed’s, and Kosmos.
FF: How was the opening the other night at Fayetteville Underground?
EP: It was their best event yet in both sales and attendance.
FF: When did you blow your first piece of glass? What was it? Do you still have it?
EP: I blew glass for the first time near Liberal, Kansas in the fall of 1981. The first few pieces didn’t make it to the annealer, I don’t think. I do have the first bowl I ever made and one of my first paperweights.
FF: Glass can be both decorative and functional. Is that why it’s so compelling to you?
EP: The final product is compelling as either a decorative piece, a functional item, or an artistic statement. I think its versatility is one of the interesting things about it. I like working with it because of its interaction with light and the fluid qualities of glass. The real draw, though, is the actual process of blowing the glass. It is something that is different from any other experience because of the physical and mental concentration required. Many people say glassblowing is like a dance. Your entire body is involved in the process – using both hands, watching the glass with your eyes, and moving your body with it. The sounds and smells are also something that become alluring.
FF: Aside from chandeliers, you’ve got some sculptural pieces that incorporate metal casting at E Street Gallery this month. How long have you been working with metal?
EP: I kind of taught myself to weld years ago just to be able to make the equipment I needed to blow glass. So I’ve worked with metal in that way for quite a while. But last spring, I took a bronze casting class from Hank Kaminsky and have been occasionally casting since then. That has been exciting and opened up a whole new area of sculptural work for me.
FF: You blow glass, you cast metal, you photograph your work, you make your own tools, your studio (that you built – that’s next to your house – that you also built) is full of framed silk screen prints with your signature on them, you update your own website, and you basically run your entire business by yourself. Do you think there’s anything you couldn’t learn to do?
EP: I am not good at selling or promoting my work in person. I prefer to let the work speak for itself. I don’t think I could learn to be a real salesman. I guess working alone so much makes me feel kind of socially inept.
FF: What’s next for you? Any exciting upcoming exhibits or installations?
EP: I just got back from the opening of a new building in Manhattan, Kansas at KSU. I had a large sculpture featuring cast glass installed there. The next show is June 19-20 in Morrilton, Arkansas, “The 5th Annual Arkansas Sculpture Invitational”. It’s a show organized by the Arkansas Sculptors Guild. In July, I will go to North Little Rock to install the piece that is on the west wall at the Fayetteville Underground this month. It was commissioned to go on a vent hood in a condominium in the Argenta District. I am making a chandelier for Florida Southern College, but don’t think I am going to get to go there to install it.
*If the above slideshow doesn’t load, visit the entire set at Flickr.