The Art of Glass Blowing in East Providence

In the studio at Belleau Art Glass

The Bay Magazine ·

Chris Belleau alters glass in order to alter minds and hearts. Chris, 53, a Wisconsin native, has a few degrees, starting with a Bachelor of Science Art in Madison. His furnace has a few much higher degrees, as in 2,000.

He lit his first furnace in Providence on March 4, 1987, while sharing a space with David Van Noppen. For several years, he wondered aloud, “Should I keep blowing glass or go back to Wisconsin?” Then, filled with more light than heat, he bought out Van Noppen. Belleau kept blowing, shaping, molding and coloring his fascinating array of glass works – which range from flowers to fish to fetishes – for 25 years. Forced out last year, Chris then bought a building to reshape his studio and his art on Curtis Street in East Providence this February.

Often, his day begins with a chalk drawing on the floor, conveyed in the shape he tries to achieve with his assistant. The drawings help to save time and waste less glass. By the time he enters the shop, the ovens and furnaces are stoked. So is he. “Glass has enchanted and challenged me for more than 30 years. I love my work and have been very lucky to make a decent living with help from several employees,” he says.
It is common, he adds, for him and part-time apprentices Dennis Delomba and Grant Shippee to spend an entire day making one type of product with “several or many variations.” This way, “We can potentially get better with each piece, refining our designs and developing the skills it takes to create them, evolving with endless variation,” he says.

He estimates that he has reshaped as much as 50 tons of glass in his life. The best thing about this heated life? “The daily challenges that fire up the imagination,” he says, smiling. “I make colored glass from metal oxides in the winter when it is cold enough to have several furnaces running. It is fun to work with hot colored glass. I like the variations in hue that only homemade colors give.”

He has made a veritable jungle of glass fish, birds, animals, trees, angels, devils with blue dresses on, bugs, butterflies, flowers (in varieties too great to mention), waves and other sculpture in functional and non-functional forms, vases, paperweights, marbles, perfume bottles, flasks, bowls, cups, martini and wine glasses, light fixtures and chandeliers.

“For me, it is the challenge in doing new things that brings growth and skills,” adds Chris. “I have always been interested in flowers and most people know me by my glass flowers. Twenty years ago, there were gobs of glass blowers making glass flowers and, while I liked the idea of a glass garden, glass flowers didn’t seem a likely direction for me especially because it was all my assistant at the time wanted to make and we were not getting along.”

Getting a prickly heat of a different kind, Chris decided no longer to conform. He made flowers “different than any I had seen. I invented several ways of making them and I was on fire with ideas. The flowers have continued to evolve ever since.” He has a line of more than 30 different glass flowers, leaves and foliage.

His multi-layered color work staggers the viewer. “When people look at one of my tree vases, even some glassblowers think that it’s painted, but it’s not. Imagery is created right on the molten bubble with colored glass. When people realize that some of the colors that I use I’ve made with metal oxides, they start to understand what’s different about my work,” he adds. “The best compliment is when someone buys my work and gives a home to one of my creations,” says Chris. “It’s never been my goal to make things just for the elite. People who visit the gallery may find many things they consider expensive. They will also find many things that they can afford and are actually a bargain compared to similar American made arts and crafts.” At day’s end, he turns off the reheat furnace and enjoys a well-deserved beer, “However, I can get it, but I prefer a handmade glass,” says Chris.

chris belleau, belleau art glass, blown glass, the bay