Work by more than 100 Artisans inside new Carmel more

Hand-blown Glass
Dave Lee

Based in northwest Indiana, the three glassmakers draw inspiration from local environments and influences. Their most well-received series, titled “Dune Prairie,” recreates the beauty of the Lake Michigan shoreline in the form of glass vases and vessels.

If TV has defined the no-nonsense U.S. Marine stereotype, then Indiana Artisan Dave Lee is redefining it in his Hot Shop Valpo glass studio in Valparaiso, where the typecast follow-orders, lead-by-example, take-charge Marine seems to have met its match with the realities of glassworking processes that go back millennia.

Sounding like the Marine we think we all know, Dave says, “Blown glass is an urgent medium. It is high adrenaline. Once you start you have to finish. Unlike other art forms where you can walk away and come back later to continue, with glass you can’t do that.”

Sounding like the artist he has become, Dave says, “Molten glass has a mind of its own. It does not want to comply with the artist’s vision. The artist can only hope to control the glass enough to get the vision to come to fruition. With blown glass the artist is competing with many factors that work against the glassblower such as temperature, gravity and centrifugal force.”

Dave is not alone in his artistic endeavor. While he always has been fascinated with blown glass, his interest began when he and his son, Bryan, took a glassblowing class together where they met Eli Zilke. At that time, Eli was a studio tech and instructor who had been blowing glass for more than a decade. Not long after, the Lees opened Hot Shop Valpo and were joined by Zilke, who by this time had become a great friend and artistic mentor.

“In opening Hot Shop Valpo, we wanted to become an influencer in our community for the arts,” Dave said. “We have seen great things over the years in northwest Indiana in terms of progress and growth, and we wanted to plant a seed from which a vibrant arts scene might grow,” he said.

“With our work, every piece is an original. No two can ever be the same or reproduced. The three artists each have different creative styles and tastes, and we have found that the combination makes for a great collaborative environment that gives us a unique flair.” Hot Shop Valpo’s work ranges from the organic to more organized traditional styles, and Dave says the trio enjoys experimenting and pushing the boundaries of tradition.

Based in northwest Indiana, the three glassmakers draw inspiration from local environments and influences. Their most well-received series, titled “Dune Prairie,” recreates the beauty of the Lake Michigan shoreline in the form of glass vases and vessels colored in blues, reds, golds, and many shades of brown. The intent is to reflect what visitors see facing Lake Michigan, overlooking the dunes through reeds and flowers, with a blue sky overhead.

“Another example relates to ethnic and cultural diversity,” Dave says. “It’s called ‘Skin Deep.’ We live in a culturally rich and diverse area, and it is important to us that our art speaks to that. This series is stark black and white on the outside, but inside there is an explosion of color symbolizing that, regardless of what one sees on the outside, inside we all are the same…colorful, beautiful and interesting.”

Most of the color and textural elements in Hot Shop Valpo work is “inside the piece,” meaning it is added during the blowing process; however, some of the work has texture on the outside, adding additional dimension and depth. Some series are created to be displayed in multi-piece arrangements, and others are created as stand-alone glass art.

“We are off-hand glass blowers, meaning we use a 3.5-foot-long blow pipe to gather 2,000-degree molten glass,” Dave said. “We then blow air into the glass and shape it to create the finished forms. We add color as we go, using glass powder, frit (crushed colored glass) and solid bar color. We also pull our own glass cane and create our own murini that, when added to our pieces, achieves beautiful textural and colorful effects. We push the envelope of standard blown glass in both form and palate, creating work one typically would not find in blown glass.”

Beyond their statement pieces, the trio creates small, affordable glasswork such as paperweights, pumpkins and acorns, as well as functional glass such as Venetian goblets, mugs and drinkware. The three artists of Hot Shop Valpo recently they have been engaged to do several large commercial, public installations. One such installation now hangs overhead in the New Buffalo MI. Township Center titled Ascension. They also do custom cremation memorial art pieces for people who have lost loved ones and pets.

As a retired U.S. Marine, Dave supports various Veterans organizations. Hot Shop Valpo donated one of its pieces to the Carrington Charitable Foundation in support of its fundraiser for Veteran’s Airlift Command and to The Gary Sinese Foundation, where their piece brought $4000 at silent auction.

These days, sounding much more like the artist he has become, Dave says, “There are elements of sculpture, painting, pottery, and even interpretive dance in the work we do, so to me blown glass art is very dynamic.” But still sounding like a U.S. Marine, he says, “Being juried in as an Indiana Artisan, with such tough competition and high standards, puts us in a group of the finest artisans in the country and shows those who are interested in art that we are among the top in our field. We are humbled by our peers and proud to be in their company.”