Gary Cohen's been blowing glass for almost 30 years. He's seen the popularity of the craft ebb and flow during the decades he's been making both sculptural and functional glasswork.
"In San Diego County up into the mid '80s and early '90s, there were 21 hot shops," he says, walking up the terraced hill of what he calls the Glass Ranch, his almost-one-acre swath of land in rural Escondido where he has his own glass-blowing studio and home. "A lot of people did it. A lot of people wanted to do it. And now there might be just four or five in San Diego County."
Running a hot shop with all of the required equipment, Cohen says, can be cost-prohibitive, and keeping up a production level that makes money is difficult. Only the most dedicated artists have made it work, he says. Cohen himself has found a creative way to keep money flowing. Rather than going the commercial-gallery or boutique route, he opens up the Glass Ranch to the public for two big annual tours during Mother's Day and Thanksgiving weekends. Cohen's upcoming Thanksgiving sale and glass demonstration is happening at the ranch (20307 Beech Lane, garrycohenstudio.com) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 29, and Sunday, Nov. 30.
"This is all the glass that has to go out," Cohen says as he walks into his shop, filled with hundreds of handmade items, including his popular, colorful tumbler sets and wave sculptures with delicate drizzled glass that emulates sea foam.
Outside the shop sits an 11-foot-tall sculpture he calls "Hydra." The quirky piece, which was inspired by the lush garden in James Cameron's Avatar, is indicative of where Cohen ultimately wants his career to go.
"I'd eventually like to get away from the gift market and work more on these one-of-a-kind sculptures," he says. "I have lots of big ideas."