Long-time Seattle glass artist's 'hot shop' to be demolished for luxury apartments

SEATTLE — A long-time Seattle glass artist who has works on display in museums all over the world, and worked with Dale Chihuly for more than a decade, is being forced to close his work studio in South Lake Union.

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The property will be demolished to make room for a 28-story luxury apartment building.

Glass sculptor Martin Bank brought together a group of Seattle glass artists Tuesday to create one last work out of the space.

The space where a glass artist works, where there are blazing furnaces and kilns, and all tools to handle liquid glass, is called a "hot shop."

"Here we go!" said Blank on Tuesday, before one of the first pours – where a scoopful of 2,100-degree melted glass – was ladled onto a metal table with one thick drizzle. It looks remarkably like lava.

"Pour, pour, pour, pour – good!" Blank shouted.

Blank then added sheets of silver, and the entire band of glass got rolled up.

The process repeats, layer by layer.

"Beautiful, that's perfect, you guys!" Blank said.

Tuesday was the 20-year anniversary of when Blank got the keys to his hot shop at 820 John St. in South Lake Union.

Now he's working on the last piece that will come out of his studio.

"It's intense, it's bittersweet," he said.

Blank showed KIRO7 a sketch of when the piece was just an idea – it's called "Light Ring."

"It's a metaphor for my life, it's layer by layer, the light goes through it at one time," he said.

His glass sculptures are all over the United States and in museums across the world.

His most well-known piece in the Puget Sound is called "Fluent Steps," outside the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, with 754 blown glass components.

Part of that work was made right in his hot shop.

But after two decades, his shop and Olympic Color Rods – a glass-supply store that's already moved out – will be demolished.

Rich Reel owns the property and is also one of the developers.

"When you've lived with something for over 20 years, it's a hard decision," Reel said. "I hate to see them go."

A 28-story luxury apartment building with 278 units will be built in the space.

"Downtowns grow up. And people have to move to different areas, artists. I'm very sympathetic to that but on the other hand, I can't really fight the forces that make this happen," Reel said.

Rising costs in Seattle – especially downtown – are driving out small businesses and artists.

"It's devastating. It changes the whole culture. Is it wrong? No. Is it happening? Yes. Seattle is not what it used to be," Blank said. "And it's time to leave."

But Blank said in some ways, being forced out is a blessing.

He said his bills for the property add up to $15,000 a month. He rents the shop out but says some months he can't break even.

He says as the "canyon of apartments" grows, "we've been hanging on. But coming down here is awful. The traffic, construction, the intensity," Blank said. "It's going to be a relief."

On Tuesday, after hours of brutally hot, sweaty work – the Light Ring was nearly done.

Then - it snapped. The piece was ruined.

"It couldn't handle the weight and tension and it just snapped. The perfect metaphor for today," Blank said.

After a break and some back and forth about what went wrong, the team started over from scratch.

And the second Light Ring made it.

The team put the piece to cool in a 1,000-degree kiln, then cheered and gave high-fives all around.

"Piece fell on the floor? Hey that happened. So what? Keep on going. Shop shut down this week, so what? Keep going," Blank said.

And you can bet Blank's art will keep going too.

"Change is good, change happens. Artists always find new places to go and work," Blank said. "I was drawing my next piece last night. This is just a little transition in life."

The piece will cool for a week before it's considered "complete."

The hot shop and building will be demolished in August. Construction for the new apartment is scheduled to start in September.