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Grace and beauty emerge from molten blob The glassblowers of Savage Mill NORTH LAUREL/SAVAGE


Dale Rupprecht wanted a unique wedding gift for his fiancee.

He chose to give his beloved, whom he'll marry next week, a one-of-a-kind glass vase, made by R. Foster Holcombe, who runs a traditional glass-blowing studio in Savage Mill.

On Tuesday, in Mr. Holcombe's studio, Mr. Rupprecht watched,and videotaped, as Mr. Holcombe and his partner, Theda Hansen, took a glowing orange, golf-ball size piece of melted glass and turned it into a delicate work of art.

"It's great, beautiful," Mr. Rupprecht said, looking at the translucent white long-necked vase swirled with pastel colors.

Mr. Holcombe worked on the piece for about an hour, continually heating it in the 2,400-degree furnace, shaping it and reshaping it until the vase was complete.

In their studio, called the Art of Fire, Mr. Holcombe and Ms. Hansen sell about 1,500 glass pieces annually, ranging in price from $25 to $500.

Their work, displayed in the gift shop section of the studio, includes stemware, bowls, vases and perfume bottles.

"Glass is a material that sort of grabs you and doesn't let go," Mr. Holcombe said.

He first began working with glass about 17 years ago, after buying some stained glass windows at a garage sale for his home in Denver. Some of the panes were broken and Mr. Holcombe took a course to repair the broken panels.

It wasn't long before he left his banking job and began working at a glass studio.

"I went through the classic burnout syndrome," he said.

Mr. Holcombe was introduced to glass-blowing when he was taking a course in stained glass painting in Seattle.

"There were people there blowing glass and I thought that was something that looked very intriguing," he said.

Determined to learn the art of glass-blowing, Mr. Holcombe signed up for a 10-month course at the Dudley College of Technology in England.

When he returned to the United States, he honed his glass-blowing skills on the renaissance festival circuit, participating in festivals in Texas, New York, Georgia and Maryland.

Mr. Holcombe and Ms. Hansen opened their studio in Savage Mill in 1989.

They still participate in renaissance festivals during the summer months and frequently do glass-blowing demonstrations for school groups.

The two work together with a practiced precision.

"Now we'll put on a swirl; I'm ready when you are," Mr. Holcombe tells Ms. Hansen, while making Mr. Rupprecht's vase.

Ms. Hansen removes the heated colored glass, the consistency of honey, from the furnace and quickly takes it over to Mr. Holcombe, who's waiting with the clear glass, attached to the end of a blowing iron.

The two work together, rolling the clear glass, while applying the heated colored glass in a swirled pattern.

Mr. Holcombe blows into the end of the iron repeatedly, to lengthen the vase and allow the bubble of color to expand into the clear glass.

While shaping the vase, he constantly heats it.

If the temperature of the glass falls below 1,800 degrees, it will break off.

Mr. Holcombe and Ms. Hansen have cut down on their trips to renaissance festivals and say they plan to devote more time to working in the studio.

L But they intend to keep their glass-blowing operation small.

"People want to buy work we produced, not work that has our name on it," Mr. Holcombe said.

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