The Perfect Storm
Cold Glass artisan Jack Storms talks about the ancient and intricate skills he uses to create works of art that diffuse light into a myriad of brilliant, beautiful colors.
By Dale King & Julia Hebert
In room 41 of the British Museum lies the most spectacular and rare 4th-century Roman glass cup of its time. The Lycurgus Cup was gilded of dichroic glass, an ancient form of cold glass formation that refracts two different colors, red or green, depending on the way light shines through it. The name of the Lycurgus Cup artist isn’t known, but today, in the 21st century, you’ll find a modern-day dichroic glass artisan who is a master of this painstaking art form: Jack Storms.
During his junior year as an art major in college, Jack Storms apprenticed for a local craftsman who had mastered the rare talent of creating cold glass artwork. Storms quickly became captivated by the remarkably stunning works around him; entranced by the rainbows of hypnotic, streaming colors and seized by the vibe from the lead crystal core spreading outward through a pristine layer of dichroic glass.
“I knew this was something I was going to do for the rest of my life,” said Storms. “I never had that feeling before. I was always worried about my future and my career – or if I would even have a career.”
Working alongside the inspirational artist for nearly two years, Storms internalized each meticulous step in the creative process. He soon became aware of the tremendous physical challenge this art form demanded, and the weeks it took to fashion even one piece.
Storms literally “soaked up the knowledge” imparted by his mentor. “At some point, after graduation, at a time when I was pretty much running the studio, I decided it was time to go out on my own.”
The Storms Glass Maestro Today
Today, at 47, he is one of the few people passionate and skilled enough to handle the arduous task of combining lead crystal and dichroic glass using a cold glass process – a technique requiring eight to 18 weeks of work to yield a single complete creation.
Dressed in black shirt and gray pants spattered with a hint of paint, Storms begins each sculpture with a block of lead crystal glass. He cuts, grinds, polishes and laminates the material, inserting slivers of dichroic glass – dozens of shards – until he achieves the desired design. Storms then encases the core in optical crystal and hand-sculpts each piece to the desired shape on a cold press lathe.
The end product is either a geometric work – a cube, pyramid, circle or wedge – or a lathe-rounded piece – an egg, wine glass, flute or wine bottle – that turns a shaft of light into a profusion of iridescent, bubbling shimmers.
Not content to just toil in the shop, the artist wanted to share his meticulous designs with the world. “By 2012, I had been working at it for 12 years. My wife started putting items on Facebook and YouTube, and popularity soared.”
To this day, Storms continues to turn out exquisite creations despite losing the sight in his right eye after being slammed in the face by a piece that flew off the lathe.
The accident, late in 2014, sidelined him for “the better part of a year” – at the most productive time in his career. “Everything started happening so fast. I was training employees, working 60, 70, 80 hours a week. I had to manage people and work. I also wanted to be home to hold my son.”
In a sudden, painful instant, his blazing work pace ceased. For three days, he lay in a hospital bed, fearing the worst. “I was psyched that I wasn’t dead,” he exclaimed. “I could have been blinded completely. A clot could have gone to my brain.”
The mishap forced him “to relearn sculpting. My studio has to be significantly cleaner and more organized or I could trip and fall. I have hired additional workers to help me. It took a year to pull myself out of it.”
Though Storms lost the sight in one eye, his inspiration remains unscathed, and his passion is still fueled by determination. “When I went into the studio and things were not exactly where I left them, it got frustrating. But I kept working at it. The only way I could get better was to keep going.”
His life and labor still unfold daily at the studio near his home in Valencia, California. It’s a noisy, bustling epicenter where machines spin, drill and grind. Storms toils at the massive glass-cutting lathe that he designed and built, based on machinery used by his dad, a master woodworker.
“I saw the beautiful work my dad made. I figured I could do the same thing with glass as he did with wood. So, I fashioned the lathe.” Storms called it “one of the most satisfying parts of my career. I talked to every tech I could find and every one said you can’t make a lathe for glass. Well, I did it, and I felt fulfilled. It was nice to do something no one had a vision for.”
Storms’ inspiration and intense work ethic derive from his heart and mind and filter to his creative hands that transform a simple block of glass into a masterpiece. “I’m in a competition with myself,” he said. “My biggest opponent is myself. Every art piece that goes through my fingers is the most beautiful one I’ve ever made – and if it isn’t, I work on it until it is.”