Fire and Ice: Glass Blower Jim Topic

by Bella Erakko

How does a Midwest college graduate in theater and political science end up in Nauvoo blowing glass? More intriguing, how does a child’s recurring dream, coupled with college, European hitchhiking, and deep connection to our ever-hotter earth collide in one artist? Meet Jim Topic, Alliance Art Gallery’s featured artist for 2nd Saturday, December 8th.

“I needed to take a break,” he admits of college. So he bought a ticket to Brussels, hitchhiked and worked, ending up one day in a gentleman’s car driving around southern France. There, atop a depleted bauxite desert, stood a little town thriving on the ruined foundations of a baron’s fortress. Completely enthralled by the juxtaposition of ruin and prosperity, he thought, “I would like to come back to the U.S., learn a small craft,” and hopefully live in a small vibrant town.As he finished his degree, he took a class in glass blowing. And the love affair ignited, never to be extinguished.

Following instinct, he trekked to Nauvoo on the advise of a friend who envisioned the original Mormons working in a glass factory. Jim Topic, whose Czechoslovakian last name (pronounced Th-Pitch) means a fireman who stokes the boiler, found himself fired up with ideas … but not much money. So he built his own glass studio out of a shed, hauling rocks and abandoned portions of a hotel in 1984.

Gazing into the fiery furnace, he sometimes recalls his recurring childhood dream of seeing that same incandescent orange glow coming from his closet, ending only when he, in a dream state, stared into it, seeing no monsters.

Today he stares into his own studio furnaces, remembering that dream, as he persuades glass into a co-creative dance. He admits, “You can be making the most beautiful piece and all of the sudden it is a pile on the floor. I persuade. I have an idea … but sometimes the glass takes over.” For him, working with glass is all about movement. And his glass moves in many directions: glass-fractured sparkling sun charms, elaborate glass-art, functional glassware.

One could say that Jim Topic’s own journey has a glass-like quality: sharp edges of a college break flowing molten-like into life as a hitchhiker, melting down into the center of one place, Nauvoo, and then giving glass a heart-owned presence in the world. As the years roll by, this means the next piece is the one he hasn’t made. Yet.

An opening reception will be held on Saturday, December 8 from 5 until 8:00.