Artist Profile: Robbie Frankel of BaleFire Glass


The glass vases made by Robbie Frankel of BaleFire Glass have quickly become a TPE favorite, due to their organic and visceral qualities. Frankel, who studied glass sculpture at Alfred University, and now resides in Portland Oregon, chats with us about how summertime is the best time for glassblowing, the mediums otherworldly qualities and more. 

Hi Robbie, Can you tell us a little bit in your own words about what you do ?

I’m a glass sculptor making modern vessels, creating strong sculptural moments than can exist with or without flowers or greenery.  My work gives people the chance  to have glass art in the home that is not mass produced.  Each is a sacred object made one at a time utilizing traditional glassblowing techniques with experimental forms.

Where are you currently ?

Currently I’m traveling in Japan!  This is where I get lots of inspiration and re-energize.  My art practice takes place in Portland, Oregon, that’s where all the glass is made.

How did you find your way to glass blowing ?

My mom was a fantasy author and energetic healer.  There was a lot of magic in my childhood, when I saw a glassblower as a child it felt out of this world, magical, somehow ancient.  I loved the colors, the fire, and the control.  The glassblower seemed like she was dancing with this gorgeous liquid lava-like material.  I eventually went to Alfred University in New York State and got my art degree majoring in Glass Sculpture.  These old art forms feel so important in this technological society.  One of the studios where I blow glass is open to the public and my favorite moments are when a child walks in, jaw dropped and eyes wide and says “Are you a wizard?!?!?!?”  Then all the struggles of being a craftsman/artist feels worth it.

Are there any other mediums that interest you, that you would like to explore?

Since glass is my full-time job I often joke that I need a craft as a hobby, something softer like embroidery or felting.  In reality I would love to experiment more with installation work, filling spaces with giant sculptural forms made of synthetic reflective materials, also utilizing sound and light projection to create experiences.  I have a lot of ideas I would love the time, resources, and space to execute.

What are you currently listening to, reading, watching?

An all time favorite author of mine is Jeanette Winterson, she creates these surrealist poetic worlds where the narrator’s gender is fluctuating, or unnamed.  Sexuality, gender, and personhood are great themes in this work and I’m always casually reading her writings.  In the studio is currently a funny mix of a lot of Whitney Houston, Sampha, Bruce hornsby, and 90’s R&B.   I also listen to a LOT of podcasts, Memory Palace, Two Dope Queens, and also Death Sex & Money just put out a great series about manhood and what it is to be a man in current times, very interesting, please listen!

Any daily rituals you have ?  What you do to find your way out of a creative rut ?

Daily Ritual = Coffee, race to studio, blow glass, eat lunch, blow glass, swim in a river if possible, sleep.  And repeat. 

The work I make is a bit non-traditional and I am always attempting new shapes and new color applications.  There are a lot of assumptions of how glass ‘should’ look, I try to make things that have never existed before.  When attempting new designs I often have to make lots of them and just sit and consider them, and also not show them to anyone for a while.  It’s hard to tell if I ‘Like’ them.  My feelings on these objects change with the weather.  It’s easy to get in a headspace that nothing is really ‘working’, but If I put them away for a few weeks, after I pull them back out I realize how magic they are.

Your favorite thing about the current season ?

It’s summertime that means light!  My transparent work relies on lots of light to illuminate the thick walls of the glass and these pieces are explosive with all this sunlight!  The colors are really popping as well.  Also I make lots of sculptural flower vases and the flower options right now are out of this world, so it makes decorating so much fun for me and for those that buy these beauties.  Also the levity of summer is really inspiring my opaque work where I use a lot of pinks, yellows, lavenders, light greys, and dramatic hints of other colors.  I also have a growing excitement for fall.  Fall is a world of possibilities for me.