Jonathan Swanz, a New Albany High School graduate, is now one of the leading glass artists in the region. He specializes in decorative art, complex functional sculpture, and architectural glass.
Meeting Jonathan, who is also a yoga expert, one gets an immediate sense that he is someone very passionate about life, and this passion heartily carries over into all forms of his artistic exposition. Swanz has an extremely amiable and outgoing personality, and his ability to connect with others is evident, as he has been able to work with the leaders of his profession worldwide.
His specialty is Art Glass, but he also enjoys drawing and sketching. Swanz says the drawing aides his ability to recognize, conceptualize and utilize the lines that best represent his artistic expression. Swanz likes to use lines that mimic the natural flowing lines that are most commonly found in nature.
Working primarily in a medium that in its workable state is essentially a molten solid, being able to precisely manipulate that molten material into natural lines that define a piece is essential. A Glassblower only has one shot at producing the piece. Failing to recognize what the material is telling you during the molding or shaping process can undoubtedly end in sudden and abrupt failure.
A production failure to any artist, but especially a Glassblower represents a substantial financial loss, coupled with a loss of time. For Glassblowers, time is directly correlated with money. Blowing glass requires an amazing consumption of natural gas to continuously heat a fire hot enough to keep the glass material molten. This is why even in the dead of Winter, a temperature gauge in any glass blowing hotshop will be pushing 100F.
For Jonathan, he attributes his artistic appreciation to early memories absorbed through time spent at his late grandfather's horse ranch in upstate New York. In these formative years, Swanz says he was influenced by two things that have stuck with him to this day. The first was a huge black bear rug laid in the middle of large room. Swanz says he used to lay on the bear's thick, coarse coat of hair, staring at the bear's large face and teeth. This was a visual that in a creative sense formed an appreciation of viewable objects and their details, which essentially, is not unlike art.
Soon after his grandfather's death, a sculptor moved into the large home once inhabited by his grandfather. A family friend, the sculptor produced three quarter life size Native American symbols out of clay. Typically Jonathan says, the artist produced large horses or Indians; large sculptures that would certainly leave an impression on any young child. These large sculptures were the second thing that Jonathan says influenced him from an early age.
With his grandfather dying and the familiar objects of his home removed away, a new home with new objects took its place. Change had occurred to Jonathan, and in a way it was sort of an epiphany to him. "Wow, how things change," Jonathan said. "Just Like art, the process . . . it changes, the flow, it changes and ultimately life . . . it changes too."
Jonathan didn’t receive any formal artistic training until the summer between his 9th and 10th grade years where he attended a pottery studio in Monterey, California. Returning to New Albany High for his 10th grade year, Swanz participated in the high school's ceramics program. He later studied glass at Centre College with internationally acclaimed glass artist Stephen Powell. Since graduating in 2001, he has studied and worked in New York, Colorado, and throughout Europe, including Paris, and Murano, Italy. While in Murano he apprenticed with Phillip Baldwin and Monica Gugisburg. Presently, Swanz is pursuing a Masters in Fine Arts at the University of Hawaii where he has earned a generous scholarship.
Swanz's work has displayed and sold in the largest and most distinguished U.S. cities: Chicago, Dallas, Napa, San Francisco, New York City, and St. Louis. Jonathan has also started his own enterprise, and is able to ship his product worldwide; he packages and ships everything himself, each box getting his custom stamp and signature. High End consumer catalogs like Lot 18, and Dean & DeLuca have taken to Jonathan's art glass, with Lot 18 featuring his signature piece, the Swan Decanter. His product is second to none, but competing in the world's glass market is extremely difficult as glass factories like Riedel produce the same kinds of functional pieces, albeit at a fraction of what it costs Swanz to produce.
Swanz says he sees a promising art glass community being built in Louisville and says, “Che Rhodes at the University of Louisville is establishing the foundation of a glass community with longevity."
Jonathan also gives credit to Glassworks' resident artist Casey Hyland as being a creative and encouraging force in the community of glass artists regionally. Recently, both Hyland and the Glassworks organization were instrumental in bringing the G.A.S. Conference to Louisville, which is the world's premiere Art Glass conference.
Additionally, a team of local artists have assisted Swanz in producing many of his best known pieces; chief among them is Paul Stone, a rising talent on the local scene who received his education at The Studio of The Corning Museum of Glass and Penland School of Crafts.
Most recently, Swanz has prepared his studio for an open house sharing experience featuring his signature Swan wine decanters, and the Seis de la Sol Chandelier. Getting the pieces fabricated and the space prepared has been an arduous task and Swanz says he has relied upon a team of eight professionals, four of them from the University of Louisville's Cressman Center glass program: Stephen Cox, Mitchell Noah, Sunny Smith, and Leslie. Additionally, Swanz has been able to utilize the collective efforts of other local professionals: Palo Pietra, "Big Money" Bill McAvinue, Rad Cleavis and Laura Gettlefinger.
Photo: Chas S. Kuhn
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