HER Arts

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Contents - Story by Grace Brown, pho­tog­ra­phy by Mara Kuhn

All about the glow: Ri­ley broth­ers look to bright fu­ture

For some, elect­ing to spend day af­ter day locked in a room with a be­he­moth of a fur­nace ha­bit­u­ally burn­ing at roughly 21,000 de­grees would be the worst form of pun­ish­ment imag­in­able, but the Ri­ley broth­ers would not dream of do­ing any­thing else.

Charles Ri­ley started blow­ing glass 14 years ago af­ter de­cid­ing to drop out of busi­ness school and pur­sue his artis­tic call­ing. Three years later, his brother, Michael, fol­lowed suit, and to­day they own Ri­ley Art Glass Stu­dio at 710 W. Grand Ave.

“The cre­ation process re­ally (caught my eye). I was al­ways build­ing things and do­ing things like that. … Hon­estly, it came down to a bit of jeal­ousy. I thought if he could do it, so could I,” Michael said.

It is the only glass blow­ing stu­dio in Hot Springs, and the Ri­leys of­fer live morn­ing demon­stra­tions Tues­days through Satur­days.

The pair grew up in a home that fos­tered their cre­ative na­ture. As boys, both were ac­tive in the com­mu­nity theater and fond of oil paint­ing. All of that cre­ativ­ity even­tu­ally led Charles to Pen­land school of craft where he learned the Vene­tian style of glass blow­ing, a method widely prac­ticed in Mu­rano, Italy.

“I never saw any of this stuff un­til I got to col­lege, then I was hooked in­stantly,” Charles said. The first time he saw glass blow­ing, he could not help but keep ask­ing ques­tions. That ex­pe­ri­ence later in­spired him to open a live stu­dio.

They started out work­ing late nights and early morn­ings in their stu­dio in the county, but count­less re­quests to ob­serve their work, paired with Charles' first en­counter with glass blow­ing, led them to open their stu­dio to the pub­lic. They were also able to in­clude a gallery at the new lo­ca­tion.

Ini­tially, they in­tended to stay open a few weeks at most, but they im­me­di­ately re­al­ized the days of work­ing in the dead of night were over. That first week they opened to the pub­lic there was some­one in their stu­dio ob­serv­ing every sin­gle day, with­out fail.

“We de­cided we couldn't just go back to a night shift kind of thing. Glass is like a mys­tery to most peo­ple, so if you watch some­one make some­thing and they ex­plain it to you, you'll learn more in 20 min­utes than you will watch­ing videos on YouTube all day,” Charles said.

“Hav­ing the op­por­tu­nity to al­low peo­ple to see what we do and ask ques­tions was def­i­nitely a fac­tor in de­cid­ing to make the stu­dio (open to the pub­lic),” Michael said.

Af­ter a great suc­cess in the county, the broth­ers de­cided to pack up their 2,400-pound fur­nace and move within the city lim­its. Now, they are lo­cated in an old fire sta­tion off West Grand.

The Ri­ley broth­ers bought the prop­erty just three days af­ter it was listed and be­gan ren­o­va­tions im­me­di­ately. Their non­stop work paid off, and they were able to be more or less moved in and ready for busi­ness as usual to­ward the be­gin­ning of July, ac­cord­ing to their web­site.

“We are proud to be a part of the new revival in the down­town area. For years we have driven into town via `up­town,' and the small busi­nesses pop­ping up all over have trans­formed it dras­ti­cally,” Charles said.

“`Side town' is no dif­fer­ent, with all the changes on Oua­chita Av­enue and Grand Av­enue. We are just a tiny drop in the bucket of money in­vested, but are proud to be a part of it,” he said.

The stu­dio may be new, but the tech­nique and care they put into each piece re­mains stead­fast. The process from start to fin­ish varies on the size of the piece, but they are able to make some of the smaller, sim­pler pieces in as lit­tle as a few hours.

They start with glass that is com­pletely clear and draw it from the fur­nace to ma­nip­u­late into var­i­ous shapes for bowls, plat­ters and even the oc­ca­sional chan­de­lier.

The glass drawn from the fur­nace is es­sen­tially molten, but Charles prefers to com­pare it to honey. That makes sense be­cause the con­sis­tency seems about the same.

A metal rod is dipped into the honey bucket, gath­er­ing just the right amount. The piece is shaped with spe­cial tools, pow­er­ful lungs and some­times a bit of spin­ning. Colored glass is then added to the mix, and the com­po­si­tion be­gins to come to­gether as a whole.

No two col­ors re­act the same once heated and mixed, not even col­ors that pro­fess to be the same shade. How it re­acts all de­pends on what was used to make the colored glass. Once a glass­blower learns how much to mix in and what col­ors mix well with oth­ers, the pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less.

In the com­ing months, the broth­ers will start mak­ing hol­i­day ap­pro­pri­ate pieces to sell to the pub­lic. Be­fore long, they will have pump­kins and tree or­na­ments scat­tered about the stu­dio, wait­ing to be­come a sta­ple in some­one's hol­i­day dec­o­ra­tions.

De­spite be­ing fea­tured in gal­leries across the state, the most no­table be­ing Crys­tal Bridges in Ben­tonville, the broth­ers have main­tained a very down-to-earth men­tal­ity. Their laid-back na­ture and gen­uine love for their craft is re­flected in the beau­ti­ful works of art they cre­ate in their stu­dio.


Charles Ri­ley & Michael Ri­ley

Ri­ley broth­ers look to bright fu­ture

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