Glass blower finds career by chance
He just wanted a part time job. He was taking classes at LCC and needed a little spending money. So when Skamokawa resident and Wahkiakum High School graduate Treasure Collupy heard about a guy with a glass blowing studio, he thought to himself, “Why not? I’ll just go over there and see if he needs some help keeping the shop clean.”
Treasure was in for a surprise.
The guy was glass artist Kyle Gribskov. He was working on a big glass piece, and his assistant was late for work.
“Hey kid! Gribskov yelled, “Come here!”
Fifteen minutes later as Collupy was falling in love with the heat and the fire, Gribskov was offering him a job.
“You’re a natural, he told me,” Collupy remembered.
The assistant never did show up.
Gribskov would pay him or let him work in trade for studio time. On days when nothing went right, they would go golfing.
“It takes quite a while to get the hang of it,” Collupy said. “Kyle was my mentor, my friend, and the best teacher I ever had. Patient. From what I’ve heard, not all glassblowers are patient. I was lucky to find it at a young age. Kyle is just the master.”
His first lesson? Don’t burn yourself. It’s not hard to do with molten glass, a glory hole--the reheat chamber furnace set at 2100 degrees--and a 900 degree kiln as part of your tool kit.
“Even after years, you still do it. I’ve never gotten anything bad. The worst one? I cut and cauterized myself at the same time while pulling cane, a process for making parts for different glass pieces. I stretched the glass and it got too cold and brittle. My knee jerk reaction was to pull back, and I sliced myself open.”
It’s been 17 years since that day he first walked into Gribskov’s studio.
In that time, he has moved to Seattle and worked in a warehouse where he got himself promoted all the way up to warehouse manager. He met his wife, Michelle, there.
“Four years after I got there, Michelle and I were looking for a change,” Collupy said. “We wanted to get out of the rat race of the city. She loved it here and I always did. And Kyle said come back. So we did.”
These days he rents studio space at the Fernhill Glass Studio in Astoria. It’s not a big time of year for glass blowing. People usually like to buy during the holidays and in the warmer months. Still, he tries to get in to the studio on a regular basis to keep up his skill base.
From May through October you can find him at the Alder House in Lincoln City.
“It’s my favorite studio in the world to blow in,” Collupy said. “That’s where Kyle learned to blow. It’s the oldest studio in Oregon’s history. It’s over 40 years old, I believe. It’s just a shack three quarters of a mile off 101. You can see Depot Bay out the back window. It’s so pretty. I think that’s why we get so many people. And Lincoln City really has become a hot spot for glass blowers.”
“We became friends with the owners when they lost some glass blowers,” he added. “We went down there to help them. Now I’ll go down for a few days and rent time in the studio but also sell my pieces in the gallery.”
He does vases, paperweights, ornaments, floats and bowls.
“You get more money for the abstract pieces,” Collupy said, “but the harder ones are the more straight on technical versions.”
“After such a long time of practicing things, they do get easier,” he added. “I remember watching glass blowers and thinking they made it look so easy. Now if I see a videotape of myself, I think ‘Hey! I make it look easy too!’”
Except when it’s not.
“There are days when you are all thumbs,” Collupy grimaced.
Then it’s time to go golfing again. Or simply shrug it off and move forward. It’s all part of the process.
“It’s glass; it’s molten; it’s moving,” Collupy said “You’ve got to keep it turning if you want something centered, something nice. You have to keep it moving all the time.”
Especially if you want to push the envelope and do something big and creative.
“I started off using pet’s ashes in my glasswork and I ended up on a TV show,” he said. “Penn and Teller. They made fun of me, and I think they pronounced Cathlamet wrong, but it wasn’t that bad. I never did meet them. They just sent out a producer and cameras.”
It turns out that any kind of exposure is good. Every time they rerun the show, he gets a few calls for work.
Then he started getting phone calls from mortuaries asking if he could use ashes from human remains to make paperweights.
“I sprinkle some of the ashes on the marver--the steel table--and I have the molten glass at 2100 degrees and go over it,” Collupy said, “and the ash sticks to the molten glass. I add layer upon layer. It’s like honey. I’ve created pendants, ornaments, art pieces and even urns with ash in the glass and in the urn.”
“Some people find it kind of weird,” he added, “but some people find it a nice way to keep the ashes and their loved ones close to them.
“I never thought I had an artistic bone in my body,” Collupy said. “That’s the last thing I thought I would be. I never did very well in class. I tell people I can blow glass, but I couldn’t paint a house, let alone a beautiful picture.”
Treasure would rather go to work than stay at home and do chores. That’s how much he loves what he does.
“Loggers do a death defying act every day,” Collupy said. “I give them kudos, because that stuff is scary. I never went into it because I saw too many people get injured or die. But it’s needed so thankfully they are there to do it. And fishermen. Not everybody can catch a fish. Everybody has a niche.”
As for what inspires him, you only have to look outside.
“Nature makes the best art and we try to replicate it,” he said. “That’s what I love about the Northwest. You can have the rivers and ocean and mountains close together and the different climates so close together.”
He is frequently asked why there are so many artists here. That is the only reason he can come up with. Just look outside.
Treasure and his wife Michelle live in Skamokawa with their two boys Tristan, 11 and Tanner, nine.
To meet Treasure and see his work, his next show will be at the Astoria Crab, Seafood and Wine Festival in April.