Portland artist Evan Burnette on the ‘alchemy’ of glass blowing

By Gemma DiCarlo (OPB)
March 25, 2023 1 p.m.

For Portland artist Evan Burnette, it has always been glass.


He’s been hooked ever since he joined a high-school field trip to see a mobile glass blowing unit at Southern Illinois University.

“At however old I was in junior year — 16, 17 — I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s what I want to do,’” he said.

Burnette now owns Local Art Glass, Portland’s only public glassblowing studio. He said he’s drawn to the mystery of glass making, and how it transforms sand into any variety of colorful, iridescent objects.

“I mean, it’s magical,” he said. “It’s the closest thing to real alchemy that you can imagine.”

But the work is also physical — Burnette and his team thrust heavy metal rods into thousand-degree furnaces, gathering molten glass that’s hotter than lava. Shop temperatures often creep above 100 degrees.

The glass has to be constantly rotated as it’s shaped and blown at just the right time to ensure symmetry and prevent breakage.

Burnette said large projects often involve six to seven people working in tandem.

“The actual act of glass blowing is kind of like a dance,” he said. “It’s all about fluidity and grace. Things need to happen on exact, certain beats, with certain hand gestures and movements.”

Burnette’s studio produces a range of commercial glassware, including Christmas ornaments, drinkware and vases. They also rent studio time to other artists who may not have their own equipment or workspace.


While all of that pays the bills, Burnette said his main focus is his personal artwork.

“The craft and design side of production… keeps the studio running every month. Fine art is what keeps me running,” he said. “I do everything else so I can make my own personal work.”

Burnette’s personal projects range from earrings shaped like Swedish Fish to glittery chickens and flying pickles — all made of glass.

He traces his irreverent, absurdist influences to the second year of his graduate program when he glued the cast of a human nose to a leftover slice of pizza.

“It was an epiphany,” he said. “I had made work like this for myself throughout my youth… but I never looked at it as something that could have a larger impact, or mean something to someone other than me.”

Burnette acknowledged that humorous art is difficult to market — he said people tend to think of comedy as “light,” and therefore less deserving of recognition or respect.

Still, he thinks it has its place in the fine art world.

“Whether you like my work or not, you can’t say it isn’t authentic,” he said. “It’s just what’s right for me, as long as it stays true to the influences.”

Whether fine art or commercial design, Burnette said one of glassmaking’s biggest challenges is the breakability of the medium. After putting in so much time and effort, he said it’s heartbreaking when the wrong pressure or temperature causes a piece to shatter.

But there’s also a certain peace that comes with accepting that it was that project’s “time to die.”

“Sometimes the beautiful piece of artwork is going to last 25 years or forever; sometimes it’s 10 minutes,” Burnette said. “When stuff hits the floor, you swear a little bit, pick up the pipe and do it again.”

Artist Evan Burnette spoke to “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller. Click play to listen to the full conversation: