If you traveled abroad before the pandemic, you may have stopped in at the Paris Ritz and been awed by the round frosted glass elevator shaft that depicts scenes from the Napoleonic Wars, or perhaps the glass chandeliers at the Divan Hotel in Istanbul, or the serpentine glass installation that runs the length of the bar at London’s Dorchester Hotel. All of those are Townshend, Vermont artist Robert DuGrenier’s work. And that’s only a small sampling of his oeuvre. For more than 30 years, DuGrenier has worked from his glassblowing studio in Vermont and a secondary space in New York City. To say that DuGrenier is a prolific artist, is like saying Tiffany’s sells jewelry — where, in fact, DuGrenier’s work is available.
When the pandemic hit last March and shutdowns and stay-at-home orders became the norm, DuGrenier, like many artists, found that his scheduled exhibitions were cancelled or postponed. His commissions came to a halt and even getting his specially formulated raw supplies became impossible.
DuGrenier is not one to get bogged down in misery. When his barn burned down several years ago, he literally rose from the ashes with a series of works that incorporated the remaining pieces in what he called the “out of the ashes, handle with care,” works. One of those is a charred hay pitchfork with tines intertwined with delicate glass streams.
From March to May, the studio was closed, but DuGrenier used the time to plan projects. He was also busy booking the two Airbnb units on his farm. The farm is historic. President Taft’s father was born there. Guests are invited to engage in a sugar making experience and the very popular glassblowing immersion. The latter glass blowing activity had to be put on hold to comply with Covid-19 safety regulations. The farm is a great place for isolation, DuGrenier attests, and notes that most of the visitors are from New York City. He’s already booked through the end of February.
Several projects that came to fruition during the past year were a limited edition of 50 bourbon bottles for Wicker Creek, a Hudson Valley Bourbon producer. Several years ago, DuGrenier also produced a limited-edition series for Fabergé’s fragrance launch. Some collaborations with other artists are also in the works for exhibitions in the next year, among them, the “Fifty Years, Fifty Artists” show for CalArts for which DuGrenier is including 25 works.
While on the farm, DuGrenier continues work on his nature series. He has melded blown glass with live apple tree branches in his orchard. He said, nonchalantly, “the branches grow and sometimes the glass breaks, but most often it doesn’t. I just have to be diligent about pruning.” He also enlists the help of live bees in his sculptural pieces. “I start the work and the bees continue with their mathematical determination to get the hive constructed with their honey.”
A visit to the farm, and a conversation with the ebullient DuGrenier, almost makes you forget that there is a pandemic. Crisp cold breeze, the crunch of snow under your feet, a glance at the apple trees with their glistening glass ribbons coiled around the branches: Nature is cyclical and living things strive to survive despite obstacles. A visit here reminds you of one of the most powerful assets we have as humans—resilience.
(For more information on Robert DuGrenier and DuGrenier Custom Glass Designs, visit dugrenier.com.)