Introducing Inspired by Salado, a new project, in partnership with the Salado Art and Cultural District, highlighting the many exciting, prolific artists and community members who have chosen to make Salado their home. This series to help you get up close and personal with the individuals who are inspired by Salado, and who continue to inspire us. They are sure to inspire you too!
Meet local glassblower, Gail Allard.
When Gail Allard opened his glassblowing studio in Salado in 2011, he quickly became a familiar part of the landscape. It’s hard for visitors to miss the red warehouse building with its colorful mural of a glassblowing cat and spaceship, or the distinctive personalities within.
“A lot of people come here because we’re all characters out there, and a lot of people know about us because everyone is their own personality,” Gail says about visitors to the studio.
Gail has been in Salado since 2011. He briefly worked for the now defunct Salado Arts Workshop before opening his own studio on 11/11/11, an auspicious date that boded well for his time in Salado. Originally from a small farming community in Missouri, Gail moved to Texas with his mother and stepfather, and quickly put down roots and stayed. Gail had long known he wanted to be an artist and attended college for art, but it took some time for him to find his medium. It wasn’t until 2002 that he walked into a glassblowing studio in Temple and, according to Gail, “that was pretty much it.”
He apprenticed at that same studio, Ryno Glass, under Bob Rynearson starting in 2002. During his time as an apprentice, he learned the art of glassblowing but also the business side: how to talk to people and demonstrate his work. When asked what it was about the art form that he initially found so inspiring, Gail identifies a unique aspect of glassblowing: “You can’t physically touch it, but you have to make it do what you want it to do. It’s something unlike anything else. It comes out of the furnace a 2000 degree blob and you’ve got to figure out how to make it into these different things by using different tools.”
The unpredictability of glassworking is another important inspiration for Gail: “[It’s] a chance to make something new and very unique. Every time I get a gather out of the furnace, I never collect the same amount of glass. So right off the bat, it’s gonna be different.” For Gail, the unpredictability and adrenaline is part of the fun for Gail, and what keeps him going: “Inspiration is smelling the paper burning and the heat and racing against the clock. You only have a limited amount of time to make whatever you’re making. Glass doesn’t like to get cold; it doesn’t like to get too hot when it’s been cold, so there’s a balance in between managing time and temperature and making what you want, because sometimes it doesn’t always work out, and when it doesn’t work out it’s sometimes really bad. It crashes to the floor and you start all over again.You don’t get to pick it back up and start over, you don’t get to park it on the table and go eat a sandwich for lunch. You start and you finish. You can’t rush the process but you have to work very quickly.”
Inspiration comes to Gail in many different forms, but two of the most important are daydreaming and the spontaneity of working with the medium. A project that arose out of a daydream was what he calls his hieroglyphic vases, which feature raised, abstract appliques of signature silver glass, achieved by touching the hot gather of molten glass to the just-blown vase like brush and paint. Gail was inspired by “hieroglyphics and shapes and vessels that may have been incorporated years and years ago; plus the hieroglyphics are art themselves.” From there, he lets the glass dictate the design: sometimes he has in mind a river or the wings of a bird, and sometimes he loosely writes his children’s names. He was recently inspired to pick up the project again after about 5 years. Much of the inspiration for his work, however, happens spontaneously on the floor during the glassblowing process, and many of the results of the work can’t be seen until opening up the oven the next day. That’s when he may see how something worked out and connect with it, then try to recreate it and see where it goes.
Glassblowing is a team process, and sometimes lucky visitors to the studio can get a glimpse of this, often toward the end of the day around 3 or 4 PM, when the main projects for the day have been finished and Gail and the other glass artists decide to make something fun. “So then we get to kind of show off a little bit,” Gail explains. “Everyone understands every part of the process that’s out on the floor and where one person needs to go to the restroom or something, somebody else comes in and picks it right up. So it becomes this dance, and you see all these people start to work together, from the little blob to the vase. And people are just like, that was so cool watching everybody, you guys don’t even talk to each other. We completely understand every part of the process, how to get from point A to point Z.” Another special aspect of Salado, he adds, is the opportunity for visitors to meet the artists after hours at local hangout Barrow Brewing Company and share a beer.
Something people may not know about his art, Gail says, is that “the actual process of glassblowing hasn’t changed for over 2000 years. The only difference from way back then to now is that we’ve figured out how to use natural gas and electricity to help the process.” Throughout history, glassblowing has been considered an elite art form, where artists were considered “a couple rungs down from nobility.” Glassblowers were also intensely secretive, and the stakes of living in communities of artisans like the glassblowers of Murano, Italy, were high: “If you were a glassblower and you left for no good reason, they would send somebody out to kill you because they didn’t want their secrets to be revealed to anyone else.”
There are three components to Gail’s business model: the perennially popular Blow-Your-Own events (he says participants blew 2400 Christmas ornaments this year alone), gallery sales, and commission projects. Gail loves making large-scale chandelier projects, like “Luce Guida,” or “Guiding Light,” the one he recently made for Texas A & M – Central Texas. The chandelier is an awe-inspiring, 24-foot tall installation in the shape of a torch floating five stories above the ground, made of over 400 individual pieces of glass that twist and writhe like flame tendrils. He also specializes in custom projects for private clients, which, thanks to a background in welding, he is often able to make in-house from start to finish. These projects are where he really gets to flex his creativity: a customer may not know exactly what they want, so he’ll go to their space, talk through what they’re thinking, then get out his watercolors and start sketching up a concept. “The conception to completion aspect of these projects is what is the most inspiring,” he explains. “These projects become big morale boosters for everyone who works here.” Another favorite project was his contribution to the art at the entrances and exits to Salado.
When asked what about Salado he found particularly inspiring, Gail identified the history, community, and sense that he’s helping build toward a better future. “One of the cool things about this particular area, is that this was an agricultural hub back in the day,” Gail notes. “There’s a lot of history here, and I think we’re still building the framework for the next 20 years.” As many know, Salado Glassworks recently made the decision to stay in Salado after considering a possible move to Georgetown. When it comes down to it, Gail says,“it really is the community. This is our home, we can’t do this anywhere else.”
Community is important for Gail, and he values the friendships he’s made here in Salado: “We have made a lot of really good friends here in town, and I think probably my favorite part about that is being able to meet everyone at Barrow, have a couple of beers, eat dinner, and do it all again next week or the next day.” Other favorite things to do in town include taking his kids to the creek and sitting on his back porch to watch the parachuters from Skydive Temple drift down as the sun sets. “It’s very easy to relax here in Salado,” he adds.