Inside Laurie Thal’s glassworking studio, shelves of colorful bowls, vases, bottles, and other pieces line the walls, and a metal tree of dangling blownglass ornaments rests just inside the door. The studio, located off the Village road, isn’t just for display—it’s where she and partner Daniel Altwies create their masterful pieces of glass art.
Twice a year, they fire up the glass furnace, waiting three days for it to reach 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Once it reaches the ideal temperature, it’s go time. The furnace remains on for 24 hours a day, and they maximize that time by blowing glass up to six days per week.
They melt up to 100 pounds of glass a week, shaping and blowing it into just the right forms. Thal selects the combination of colors, and Altwies sandblasts the pieces, masterfully removing intricate lines of color to create detailed white patterns and designs. A single piece, such as an architectural fused glass commission, can take weeks to fabricate.
Thal started creating glass art in the valley decades ago. After graduating from the Art Institute of Chicago with a major in glass, she came out to Jackson to ski for a winter and plunged into the world of glass artistry right away. Deciding she needed her own studio, she bought some land and built one in 1977. She moved the operation to her current studio in 1988.
For years, Altwies worked as a graphic artist until he and Thal started creating glass art together four years ago. The two have been partners for 11 years.
While Thal is shifting a lot of her work to the realm of architectural installations, including a recent 14-foot-long piece that hugs the recessed curve of the ceiling in a local plastic surgeon’s office, she still loves creating the pieces she is best-known for: bowls.
“I love making bowls,” Thal says. “There’s just something about bowls that’s so comforting and centering. I’m also really excited about fused glass work. It allows us to make glass in different dimensions and scale.”
Whether she’s working on a large-scale installation or a small bowl, Thal embraces elegance and simplicity in her designs.
“My idea of beauty is not to make it complicated but to enhance the form and let the piece speak for itself,” she says. “I’ve always liked simple beauty.”
Several pieces of Thal and Altwies’s art is displayed in their home near the studio, where their love of art and glass melds with their love of world travel. In addition to artful fused glass windows, hanging lights, and beautifully highlighted bowls, mementos of world travels are prominently displayed, including a collection of masks dotting the walls and sculptures lining the shelves.
One recent expedition involved traveling with friends on a 50-foot catamaran around Fiji and Vanuatu in the South Pacific. Thal learned to sail as a child and has been drawn to the ocean ever since. Several years before, she and Altwies spent nearly two months sailing around Australia and Papua New Guinea. As a graduation present, she even took her two daughters scuba diving with 50 hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos Islands.
“I live my life to the fullest and hope that those experiences somehow inspire the art I create,” she says.