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Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard

Looking for a cheap artistic thrill in downtown Eugene?

Every Friday and Saturday evening, Eugene glassblower Conrad Williams keeps the doors open at Studio West, the downtown glass-blow ing studio and art gallery that he and his photographer wife, Erin Dougherty Williams, have opened on West Eighth Avenue, just a stone's throw from the Hult Center.

The public is invited to drop by and watch the artist at work.

"This is a place where people can watch you when they are downtown and have the ability to see a kind of art in motion," the glassblower said. "The act, the dance, of live glassblowing: It's almost performance.

"You have a lot of people who know what they're doing moving around each other with hot glass."

The couple opened the gallery and studio in part, Erin Williams says, for financial reasons.

"It is very expensive to rent time in other people's studios," she said. "To be honest, it became a numbers thing. We had been renting for so long that I said to him, `Every time you're in the studio you're counting, to the pennies and to the hour, what it's costing you. That's really stifling.'

"Now we pay the same amount if he's here four hours a week or 40 hours a week. And actually he's usually here 50 hours a week."

Conrad and Erin Williams both come from Naples, Fla., where they were briefly acquainted as toddlers but didn't see each other again until running into each other at a wedding in Seattle a few years ago.

Conrad Williams had come to the Northwest in 1998 as a student at the University of Oregon, where he started off studying environmental science. Two years of that persuaded him to look more seriously at his attraction to glassblowing, which he had discovered in high school.

"I woke up one morning and realized I could wake up every day the rest of my life and blow glass," he said. "Maybe I should pursue that more intensely."

He transferred for his last two years of college to the California College of the Arts in Oakland, Calif., where he studied Swedish and Italian glassblowing traditions. He was interning at glass superstar Dale Chihuly's studio in Seattle when he happened to go to that fateful wedding.

Erin Williams graduated in 2001 from the Rhode Island School of Design. She continues to do free-lance work for fashion and commercial photographers on both coasts, using her computer skills for post-processing of others' photographic images.

She also continues her own commercial and creative photography, some of which is displayed on the walls at the gallery in Eugene.

One of the couple's surprises on opening their studio in Eugene was finding Conrad Williams' glass work confused with the widespread borosilicate glass art produced in the counterculture community here.

Borosilicate glass - commonly referred to by the brand name "Pyrex" - has been used for at least a generation here to fabricate marijuana bongs. It has inspired an entire genre of art growing out of those cultural roots.

"It was difficult for me in the beginning when I was interested in finding a space in downtown Eugene," Conrad Williams said. "I would call up real estate agents and I would say, `Hi my name is Conrad and I'm a glass artista...' I couldn't figure out why wasn't getting any callbacks. I would call people several times.

"I finally explained I wasn't making bongs or pipes, and they'd say, `Well, what else can you make?'?"

The name "Chihuly" opened a few doors, Williams said.

The glass work at Studio West is done in soda-lime glass, which is worked in larger quantities in an oven, rather than at a flame. Soda-lime glass lends itself to larger and somewhat less intricately decorated creations than borosilicate glass.

"The aesthetic on borosilicate is a lot more detail-oriented," he said. "With soda lime, you don't draw on it. You apply colors in much different ways."

Williams is selling his work at relatively low prices. You can buy a small glass pony for $14; his largest organic, abstract glass creations run $850.

"We try to keep everything as reasonable as possible because we want people to go home with the work," he said

Studio West also is showing artwork by a handful of artist friends of the Williams. Conrad Williams also offers lessons. The cost is $15 per hour for instruction and $30 an hour for studio use.

About 10 other glassblowers, ranging from beginning students to accomplished artists, have been renting time in the studio.

"We wanted to keep it considerably affordable compared to other options in town," Erin Williams said. "We want to keep artists working in here on a regular basis."

Call Bob Keefer at 338-2325 or e-mail him at bob.keefer@

New downtown gallery and studio

Studio West

What: Glassblowing studio and art gallery

Where: 245 W. Eighth Ave.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Demonstrations: Drop by and see live glassblowing free from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
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Title Annotation:Arts and Literature; The art of blowing glass is displayed twice weekly at Studio West
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 11, 2009
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