It is a Firehouse that has come to the rescue of a once neglected area of downtown Vancouver – but not with fire trucks, hoses or firefighters, only artists hard at work sitting before roaring furnaces shaping molten glass into beautiful objects. They, along with some other businesses, are at the forefront of the revitalization taking place in downtown.
Firehouse Glass sits in a building erected in 1906 that once housed the Vancouver National Bank. The public art workshop took its name from an old firehouse in another part of town, but when negotiations on that piece of property collapsed, co-founders Greg Lueck and his wife Rebecca Seymour, found greener pastures in the bank building. Their shop will soon mark its 12th year on Main Street.
Greg Lueck needed more space than the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) could offer. As a student there, he referred to himself and fellow classmates, as “the homeless glassblowers,” because the facility was more suited for casting. How he ended up an artist in the first place is an amusing story, told by his son Andrew, who manages the facility. He says his father was doing a little soul-searching and looking for something to take his mind off his job in the corporate world. He came home one day to find a PNCA catalog marked with a yellow sticky note on the glass blowing section. When Lueck asked, “Why glassblowing?” his wife simply replied, “You love glassblowing.” He gave it a try and it became an obsession that would give rise to Firehouse Glass in 1999.
It took a year to renovate the building. When it came to acquiring permits, city officials were left scratching their heads. No one had ever opened a glass blowing shop in Vancouver and new permits would have to be created. Andrew claims they were the first glassblowing studio in all of Clark County. He was roped into art at a tender age, apprenticing under his father.
“I was kicked out of one studio with my dad because the owner didn’t want the liability of a 10-year-old working with hot glass,” says Lueck.
They could have set up shop anywhere in the metro area. Despite the popularity of Portland’s art-centric Pearl District to the south, the Luecks chose Vancouver, because they call Clark County home.
There is a lot of support for arts in the city, according to Andrew, and he likes what he sees in the neighborhood now. Looking back, he says it’s a far cry from when they moved in.
“It was garbage. Very run down and neglected,” explains Lueck. “Part of the block was demolished and there were pawn shops everywhere.”
Lueck believes the city is making a comeback. Now, there is an art-walk that takes place every first Friday of the month, with a string of galleries and restaurants participating. It can be found between West 11th Street on the north end, and south to East 6th Street, with the majority of galleries between Washington and Broadway.
Like his father, Andrew is passionate about his art.
“It’s really intense,” he explains. “I like to describe a good glassblowing session as a dance. When everyone is dialed in and working as a team, and your assistants have everything you need when you need it, it’s a dance. It’s like ballet using long sticks and hot glass.”
Andrew says Firehouse hopes to inspire the same passion in others. The studio offers private lessons in glassblowing for $280. Up to three people can take a class together and split the cost. Lueck recommends students learn in pairs so they can assist each other in the studio when they go solo.