Made in SoWal: Fusion Art Glass
June 24, 2015 by SoWal Staff
Everyone likes to take a walk on the beach, but some of us have a real need to walk on the beach. We crave a connection with nature and feel the beach is a great place to do it. We don't just look at a dune and see a pretty sight. We see something that touches our souls. That's true of Russ Gilbert. He moved here over 20 years ago from nearby Chipley and hasn't regretted it for a second.
“I come over every morning on the bridge from Grayton to Seaside and am always amazed at the scene. I understand why people come here,” says Russ. “What some people don't know is how wild it is here. We have lots of wildlife all around us, even Black Bears.”
Russ owns and operates Fusion Art Glass, headquartered in Seaside. What began as a small gallery in Ruskin Place in 1996 has since become an extremely impressive operation in a large space on the town's Central Square, and another successful shop in Grand Boulevard at Sandestin.
Russ creates glass art in a small warehouse nearby, and showcases the creations in his shops. He feels very lucky to be able to do what he loves. He is an American craftsman in the truest since of the word. He admires American craftsmanship and the love of the craft of glass blowing is one of the reasons his life has taken on a kind of evangelical pursuit of aiding other American glass blowers.
“The American glass blowers are the best glass blowers in the world,” says Russ. “The Venetians are the best technical glass blowers. But they're glass blowers because their father and grandfathers were glass blowers. They're not glass blowers because they're artists and that's what they want to do, and that's how they want to express their self. On a design stage, the Americans are number one every year, and have been since the eighties. It's the American ingenuity. The American drive.”
Russ has sold his own art for many years, and it's coveted by many art lovers and collectors. His “Made in SoWal” creations are spread across the globe, and his online store provides access for customers anywhere, anytime. But you can see fire in his eyes when he talks about other artists he represents. His gallery has incredible works from artists all over the United States. More than 150 of them. And he's proud they are doing their right here in America.
“The guys and girls who are full-time glass blowers...these people feel like they are so lucky to do what they do, and make a living at it,” says Russ. “Everybody feels so fortunate to be doing what they do. Doing what they love. What they truly love. And as a consequence of that. Ninety nine percent of these people are the nicest people you're ever gonna meet because they're so happy. They're happy doing what they're doing.”
When Russ is not blowing glass or conducting the business of a gallery owner, he and his wife are usually out on Western Lake, or on Grayton Beach. His voice is filled with passion when he describes walking a half block from his home, down to the shore of the lake, paddling over to the beach in his kayak, and being immersed in the incredible natural world of SoWal.
“On the days we're late or feeling lazy we'll drive around to the the beach for sunset,” Russ says. “That's the best part of living here. Having that quiet moment, whether it's 20 minutes, or an hour and a half. It's that quiet time. That time to center. A time to talk about things, or just be quiet and enjoy how beautiful things are.”
Russ is inspired by South Walton, as many of us are. The inspiration he receives, he passes on in the form of his glass art. Do yourself a favor and check out Fusion Art Glass in Seaside or Sandestin. A visit to either one is really more of a museum visit, where you'll see the finest art glass creations in the world. The glass in Venice is fantastic, but it's equaled or bested right here in SoWal.
Stop by the store in Seaside or Grand Boulevard, or shop for fabulous designs online at www.fusionartglass.com!