Owen Pach: Ribbons of Color

Cathy Salustri

  Working out of a converted garage, Owen Pach earns his living in glass and sculpture. For almost the past four decades he his talent, coupled with his knack for rehabbing interiors, has fed and clothed him.
 "My last real job was in 1976," he says. He was the east coast supervisor for a chain of liquor stores. Before that he worked as banker. Neither job, he says, made him happy.
 "I wasn't cut out for any of that. That was going to be the course of my life: I was going to be a business guy, but I wasn't cut out for business. I had a pretty nice place in south Miami, pretty close to the Grove. The living arrangement was good, I had a company car, but I hated what I did,” he says.
 He left corporate America behind, but he didn’t take an immediate path from 9-to-5 guy to glass artist. Instead, he started doing landscaping work. That led to building decks, which led to building additions.
 It was while he building additions that he met a cabinet maker and a stained glass maker. He appreciated their work and wanted to learn their trades.
 “I got them to teach me their trade in exchange for work I did in their houses,” he said.
 That's where his life took a turn that would set him on the path that led him to his studio in Gulfport. Owen started doing more wood and glass work, and within five years corporate America called again – this time to commission his art work, not to dress him in a suit and tie.

 He carved pieces for the Shriner’s hospitals and others. He made glass jewelry, which sold easily. He made candlesticks. He kept learning,apprenticing for two years with S. Murinni Master, then as a teaching assistant to renowned artists such as St. Petersburg’s Harvey Littleton.
 Today, Owen works out of an old garage on Beach Boulevard. In addition to his corporate commissions, he’s created metal and glass work for locals. The Gulfport Merchant’s Association commissioned him to create public art, a commission he’s sharing with local metal artist Frank Strunk III (featured this past September in the Gabber.)

  If you ask him, he credits his talent for shaping glass shards into pleasing objects, but if you keep him talking there’s no doubt his success as a working artist comes not just from talent, but hard work and determination.
 He hasn’t given up rehabbing interiors and custom tile work, either.
 "I still have these mad skills to do some interior work," he grins. Right now he’s working on a property rehab in Clearwater, but every night finds him at his studio well into the early morning, chiseling glass and smoothing it into exploded ribbons of color.
 In his studio he reveals how he makes the ribbons: chips of colored glass roll into streaks of color, aided by ridiculously high temperatures. His studio, open only to the public on ArtWalk nights, is a study in juxtaposition: part polished glass with colored ribbons streaking through each piece, part German Expressionist industrial tools and decor (think Wizard of Oz meets Metropolis)
 “I'm trying to see how many things I can do with it before I die. Lately no material has been safe with me; I've been using wood, steel, stone and glass... I call it Four Element Improvs,” Owen says of his latest series and the sheer variety of materials in his studio.
 Owen takes a seat in front of a mishmash of smooth shards of glass, pebbly glass beads, and a thin UV light. He selects a piece of manufactured glass he chiseled off a larger piece last night and erases its rough edges with a Dremel. He selects an asymetrical fire-polished glass with carmine streaks and a chunk of discarded marble; he smooths them both on a diamond lap, which looks like a flat, motorized whetstone.
 While a larger piece can take him months to complete, these small pieces, he explains, offer him a creative outlet. He uses a special glue to affix the glass to the marble, waits for it to set in the UV light, and then tops the miniature tower with the glass pebble. When the glue doesn’t set the way he expects, he brings it out into the sunlight to set.
 When he’s satisfied with the set of the glue, he takes it back inside and sets it down. The entire process took less than 15 minutes. Time, you realize, is his biggest challenge. His hard work and talent have gotten him work in spades. He’s not complaining, but a few extra hours in the day probably wouldn’t hurt.
 “I'm doing my dream job. What I would change about it is that I would have a hot shop,” he says. Without a hot shop, he can only make glass sculpture pieces, not blown glass. He’d like that to change. “The city has made it clear that they're ready for me to build a shop, but I really don't have time to stop and build a hot shop; I have about six months of work (ahead),” he says.
 A hot shop is a facility designed to blow glass. It includes a furnace, a reheating furnace called a glory hole and an annealer (an oven that runs at about 920 degrees and then slowly cools the glass). He’d like to build a mobile one, that way he can take it schools and events and show people how he creates his art.
 Owen builds custom glass equipment, so he'll be able to build his own hot shop.
 As soon as he has a spare second.

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