Russell Carson Glass
by Remy Tumin
Back behind Cottle’s, just past Blackwater Farm, Russell Carson is recycling bottles at 1,950 degrees. Beer bottles and glass scraps destined for the dump are instead being melted down for stemware delicate and detailed enough to be straight off Murano.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “You’re usually working with many different colors in a day, and by the end of the week, you’re trash bucket has every color of the rainbow in it. People will throw it away because they think it’s like mixing paint, and you’ll get an unknown color. But we melt it anyway.”
“I would love it if it was muddy and swirly, but it ends up being the most beautiful pale blue.”
The beautiful pale blue is one of the many pleasant surprises glassblowing has brought Russell over the years. What began as a curiosity has
Russell Carson Glass turned into a full-fledged business, Russell Carson Handcrafted Glass, that has brought him from his West Tisbury studio to the Italian coast.
He’s been at it for 15 years, refining his technique to the point of addiction.
“Part of it is so challenging and so frustrating at times, but it’s a desire to perfect something,” he said. “I don’t necessarily want to make beautiful things, I just like the idea of sitting at the bench, it has nothing to do with final outcome for me. If someone wanted to pay me to make starfish for the entire day, I’d do it.”
Martha’s Vineyard Glassworks, where Russell worked for more than 10 years, makes bright orange pumpkins in the fall. Silly to some, perfect for Russell.
“I love making those pumpkins,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with the desire to perfect something that is so hard, to be very good at something that’s very challenging.”
Russell first encountered glassblowing when he was in high school. His girlfriend Maura Martin encouraged him to check out a garage studio down the road from her in Bridgewater, Conn. It was there he got to explore glassblowing with more sculptural work bordering on “eccentric and out there.” His parents still have the cobalt blue frog he hot sculpted and carved back in 2003.
It was a trickle down effect from there, moving from one glassblower who knew another who knew another. At one point he was working for seven different people in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut, everyday in a different studio. One glassblower knew Mark Weiner, a founder of Martha’s Vineyard Glassworks on State Road in West Tisbury. Russell and Maura moved to the Island soon thereafter.
Like his travels, his technique has changed over the years, too.
“I used to make mostly sculptural pieces, like big heavy, thick whales tales and big anchors, and I don’t know how I turned this corner to making the lightest, thinnest, and affordable work,” Russell laughed.
It could have something to do with meeting his Italian maestro, Davide Fuin. Davide grew up on the island of Murano, home to some of the finest glass craftsmen in the world. He is considered “the best goblet maker” in all of Venice. A friend of Mark Weiner’s at Glassworks, Davide was a frequent summer visitor and held workshops at the Vineyard studio.
“The first few years I was just the underling that watched,” Russell said. He eventually worked his way to assisting Davide in teaching classes around the country, and these days, right alongside him in Italy.
“Everything I do is based on what he’s taught me,” Russell said. He travels there two to three times a year now.
Russell is focusing on a hexagonal glass, almost entirely. Short and wide or thin and tall, the glasses are made at a low heat to keep them as thin as possible. So low, most other glassblowers don’t believe him.
The design is based on a 1950s style. They sell for $30 a glass and are available at Morrice Florist, as well as the Chilmark Flea Market this summer.
You could call it a Venetian style glass, but it wouldn’t do the Italian port city, or its craft, justice.
“People throw that word around a little too much,” he said. “It’s like saying you’re going out to the Olive Garden for authentic Italian food.”