Artwork in the woods
Working in his open-air studio on County Road 16 near Jenkins, Steven Weagel gets frequent friendly honks from friends who drive by.
Steven blows glass in the back of a converted truck, complete with propane-fired heaters and all the tools necessary, most made by Steven himself. The truck opens up both in the back, where stairs ascend to the furnaces, and on the side, for demonstrations.
In one furnace are long blowpipes, sitting hot over roaring flames, and another oven holds both a pit of molten glass and a piping hot hole for keeping the liquid glass hot and workable.
Steven dips a hot blowpipe into the pool of glass, which glows bright orange and white, and pulls out a golfball-sized glob, then begins to work with it.
He keeps the glass spinning, blows an air bubble into it, and continues a long process of coloring and shaping the glass, constantly reheating it, until it forms a tall drinking glass.
Steven has a long history in glass blowing. He was one of the first students to come out of Mankato State’s glass blowing program.
He explained that while glass blowing originated long ago in Italy, studio glass blowing was born out of the invention of two men: Harvey Littleton and Dominick Labino. They invented the first small glass-blowing furnace, which they called a day tank, in Madison, Wis.
That invention made the studio art glass movement possible, and Steven says the reason he’s able to blow glass is because of Labino and Littleton.
In college, Steven was originally a physics major. While he’d drawn most of his life, he found the sciences to be more encouraged than art, and he had no art classes until college.
Part way through his physics studies, he had a change of heart and pursued art instead.
“I’m sure it’s what I was put on earth to do,” Steven said.
When Steven began studying glass blowing, he was one of few people in the studio glass field. Steven said that at that time, he knew just about everyone who blew glass in America.
In 1975, Steven got together with Bob Doring, owner of Chimaera Glass, and the two gave glass-blowing demonstrations at the Renaissance Festival. The two educated the public, and Steven later found out that in some cases he’d inspired others to get started.
In 1988, Steven no longer attended the Renaissance Festival and he stopped blowing glass altogether. He candidly explained that he took the time to address and solve a drinking problem.
When he stopped creating glass art, he set up his welding shop and began making steel art. He developed technique of drawing and carving steel fish.
Steven has since returned to glass blowing, and some of his latest work includes combining his steel art with glass and ceramics. Collaborating with Cyrus Swann, Pine River area potter, the two create wall hangings. Their most recent work involves metal birch trees Steven forges in his workshop in front of ceramic tiles coated in glass.
Much of Steven’s glasswork is functional works of art, including drinking glasses, vases and reed diffusers.
His business is called The Weagelworks Fine Sculpture and Blown Glass.
In addition to blowing glass, Steven is one of the founders of the high school trap shooting team for Pequot Lakes and Pine River-Backus, and he continues to be a coach. This year the trap team has grown to 35 members.
He’s also taught hunter safety classes for 10 years and shoots on two trap teams himself.
Lately, though, he can be found in his studio. He’s also back at the Renaissance Festival seven or eight weekends a year, and he visits eight or so other annual art festivals.
“I live the dream every day,” Steven said.