published Saturday, August 11th, 2012

Glass brightens area homes

  • photo
    Handblown glasses and goblets by Prentice Hicks are among the best selling items at the Plum Nelly shop on Frazier Avenue in North Chattanooga.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
    enlarge photo

During his senior year at Tulane University, Prentice Hicks took an elective in glass blowing.

He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in ceramics and, since then, he said, "I've probably made three pots since I've been out of college."

But he kept blowing glass, pursuing it, he said, because he felt like he was "pretty much incapable" of doing it. It took him nine years to establish his studio -- Wauhatchie Glassworks -- and start making a living as a glassblower, learning how to be an artist and a businessman at the same time.

Now, Hicks' colorful hand-blown glassware, made in Lookout Valley, graces tables throughout Chattanooga and beyond.

"They're our best-selling item," said Catharine Daniels, owner of Plum Nelly, on Frazier Avenue. Shelves displaying Hicks' wares stand in the window of the store, beckoning customers to the doors. "They're just eye candy."

The artist said he's perfected a few designs over time, adhering to the architectural philosophy of form follows function. "I like to have the glass have a hand in the process," he said.

He tries to make his forms loose but not sloppy and "not looking like it came out of a biscuit-cutter mold."

He doesn't want it to look all uniform. "I'm real proud that my patrons can see my stuff in a window at a distance and know it's mine by the individual look of it."

The end product depends on the air bubble in the center of the glass. "There's only so much control you can have when you're working with the heat of the flame and centrifugal force."

He doesn't use hand tools to make adjustments, a trick of the trade that would permit him to reproduce more details, but he prefers to let each glass have a touch of individuality.

"If you look at a field of tulips, you're going to see that they're all the same breed of flower, but you can see individual nuances with each blossom. That's what I like about the style I've arrived at; there is an organic quality to it. You know you're getting members of the same family, but you're not getting identical twins."

Indeed, said Daniels, each of Hicks' glasses has its own personality.

"For some, the funkier the better," she said. "Others want something more normal."

Customers often amass collections of Wauhatchie Glassworks goblets, adding piece by piece, sometimes purchasing them as wedding or birthday gifts for friends and family members.

All of his glasses are usable -- no dust collectors. Functional art, Daniels called them, and Hicks echoed her words. He and his wife go back and forth about whether they are dishwasher-safe. They are, he said, human-safe, intended to be handled and used, not set away in a china cabinet.

He likes to let kids handle his work, despite the cringing he gets from some parents.

"To me, the only way to be able to appreciate things as adults is to be given the opportunity to be able to enjoy them as children," he said.

Hicks attributes most of the color to his wife's taste. Maryon Wright also acts as his studio manager.

"The colors we have are a blend of colors she's selected," he said.

He prefers to work with singular colors or blends of slightly different shades more than mixes, he said.

For Plum Nelly's 40th anniversary, Hicks created a series of glasses in a cornflower blue, a limited-edition collection.

Hicks likes seeing his work in people's homes. "I think it's pretty cool. There's a certain amount of joy [making] something that has beauty, that other people like."

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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