When Grant Garmezy answered my phone call on one of the first truly chilly evenings of the year, I heard the sound of drawers opening and tools clinking as he moved around his home studio. Clearly, he’s the kind of guy who’s always got an iron in the fire, so to speak. “I was always into the arts as a kid,” he told me. “Drawing and sculpting came naturally to me and nothing else really did!”
Born and raised on a cattle farm near Nashville, Tennessee, Garmezy originally landed in Richmond to study art at Virginia Commonwealth University. One day during his freshman year, he stumbled upon the VCU glass studio. “As soon as I saw glass, I was like, this is an amazing medium. I remember walking by the studio, there was some music playing and people were hanging out. I just knew I had to take it and try it.”
From that first moment, he was hooked. After graduating in 2007, Garmezy started his own glass business, Grant Garmezy Glass, where he focuses on sculptural work and commissions. He’s been making a living as a practicing glass artist ever since, though he’s quick to say it took him a great deal of time and a lot of dedication to get to where he is today.
His glass sculptures of deer heads, sparkling fish, abstract antelope-horn-like tubes, and whimsically colored antlers exist a world away from the functional plates and cups that he made when he was starting out. “I’ve never really been into the functional kind of glass blowing,” he said. “In school, they taught us, this is how you blow a bubble, this is how you make a cup, this is how you make a plate.” Once he had the fundamentals down, he could experiment with more creative forms. “I thought, if it takes these four moves to make a bowl, what if I carve lines into it—and now I’ve got a turtle shell!” After that breakthrough, the expressiveness of his work flourished. “I started creating my own sculpting vocabulary from there.”
Garmezy said that the environment where he grew up—working with animals and being around that imagery—is a heavy influence on his aesthetic. “There’s something about glass that I’ve always thought …” He paused for a moment to think, then continued. “Because it’s moving while we’re making it, I’ve always thought it was very interesting to make work that looked alive. I try to keep that energy in the work even when it comes out of the kiln.” That dedication to movement and energy is apparent in the flowing, swirling scenes he is able to conjure up, akin to small terrariums or entire ecosystems filled with shiny creatures.
This year, Garmezy will be exhibiting for the first time at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond’s Craft + Design Show taking place in the newly renovated Main Street Station train shed. “I’ve had a couple friends do it and they always say they loved it,” he enthused. “We’re just really lucky—on our first time applying for the show, we got into it.” Garmezy is going above and beyond for his contribution by building a booth custom designed for the space. “This is the first year I’ve had a booth because I don’t do many shows like this,” he explained. “We’re building a beautiful booth with a lot of lighting and shelving just to help showcase the work because glass really needs lighting to pop.”
Garmezy is excited to be exhibiting among many of his respected peers. “Probably the best thing about glass is the community,” he said. “The glass community is very small, but it’s very worldly. It doesn’t matter if there’s a language barrier because we all speak the language of glass.” He quipped, “I always tell people it’s like dancing: if you can salsa and I can salsa, we can probably salsa together.” The teamwork required to blow glass also fosters a familial sense among the practitioners. “There aren’t many mediums where you need a team of helpers to make the work.”
A common problem in the medium is the cost of doing business. Many glass artists who learn their craft in art school lose their skills after graduating because of the prohibitive expense involved in the materials and machinery. Reflecting on the situation, Garmezy lamented, “Sometimes, the glass gods aren’t forgiving.” Garmezy has finally found a solution by installing new equipment from Mobile Glassblowing Studios that costs less to own and uses less gas than traditional glass blowing machinery. That reduced overhead has provided him with a greater measure of creative freedom. “As an artist, being able to practice and try new things has always been a risky move for me,” Garmezy explained. Having access to this low-cost equipment in his home studio offers him more opportunity to experiment. That’s a good thing, too, because Garmezy has a lot of ideas to chew on. “I just knew the second I touched glass that it would give me something to learn for life,” he reflected. “I knew it would keep my attention for a lifetime.”
Grant Garmezy will be exhibiting along with 120 other artists at the 53rd annual Craft + Design Show hosted by Visual Arts Center of Richmond from November 17–19. See more of his work at grantgarmezyglass.com.
Photography by Justin Reiff