Walk down the street to 6th and Main and you’ll see what looks like a formidable bank building. Look closer through the windows and you’ll see the sun dancing on colorful glass objects. Walk along and peek into other windows and you may see Andrew Leuck pulling molten glass out of a glowing furnace.

Firehouse Glass 1906 Vancouver National Bank Building
The 1906 Vancouver National Bank Building was re-purposed as a state of the art glass art studio in 1999. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

In 1999 Greg Lueck and Rebecca Seymour renovated the turn-of-the-century Vancouver National Bank Building to create a space for Firehouse Glass, one of the few art glass working centers in the Northwest. Andrew’s father, professional glass artist Greg Lueck, had become enamored with blowing glass when he took classes in at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland. But, after he and other students completed a class, they had nowhere satisfactory to go to continue to create glass art. They hired an architect who designed the current open space housing world-class equipment and a place for glass artists to work and learn.

Three Levels of History and Work Space

Andrew Lueck, who learned the art of blown glass from his father, manages the rambling space. He walked me through the fascinating building. The wood and marble floors from the bank are still there. But what’s really interesting is the vault. Inside the vault, which is used as a tool room, was an alarm panel with a bell and old-fashioned batteries. Lueck pointed out that small wires lined the vault. If the wires vibrated even a tiny bit, the alarm would go off.

He then explained how glass artists used the various furnaces on the first floor. The main gas furnace, kept at 2,000 degrees, runs 24/7. The main floor is called the Hot Shop… and it was. It’s the place you’ll see the glass blowing demonstration during the First Friday Art Walk downtown.

Firehouse Glass fritz Dreisbach Glass
Fritz Dreisbach, the world-renowned glass artist, made this piece at Firehouse Glass. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

When you enter the building, you’ll see a marvelous display of art glass. A large purple and pink piece caught my eye. It had undulating lines of thick glass. Andrew explains, “This piece is by the famous glass artist Fritz Dreisbach. They filmed a story of his life work here at Firehouse Glass.” While hand-blown glass smoking pipes and Christmas ornaments are more commonplace nowadays, it’s fun to see the work of famous artists, too.

Downstairs I saw yet another massive vault, the black metal door made in Portland with a hand painted scene on the front. The room had several stations with equipment like grinders and polishers. At one of the machines I met glass artist Saul Magaña, who was polishing a small piece with an etched design. That area was termed the Cold Shop.

And then upstairs — with domed windows surrounding classroom space — was a place that instructors could rent to teach other forms of glass art making lampwork beads, stained glass. I looked through the wavy glass windows overseeing downtown Vancouver and thought that those must have been the original, turn-of-the-century glass windows.

Learning to Work with Glass

Firehouse Glass Andrew Leuck teaching
Andrew Leuck enjoys introducing young people to the art of glass blowing. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

Andrew shares, “I will teach anyone over 12 how to blow glass.” As we talked, his family came in with visitors from California. They were going to be learning how to blow glass. Their first project: a cup. I watched as they excitedly chose colors and then learned how to get glass from the large furnace to start their project. With Andrew’s wife Sami assisting, the young people learned how to carefully work the glass. The couple, who live in Fruit Valley, have four children between them. It’s a busy household.

Firehouse Glass offers private lessons seven days a week for groups or individuals, from beginner through advanced skill levels, in each of the following studios: hot shop, cold shop, warm shop and the torch working/ bead making studio. You can learn art glass skills as a fun outing with friends or as a team building experience. Lueck is flexible. Everything is arranged by appointment. Call 360-695-2660 or contact Firehouse Glass via email at info@firehouseglass.com.

Firehouse Glass 1906 bank alarm
The old bank building holds interesting secrets such as this alarm system dating back to 1906. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

First Friday Art Walk

When you venture to Downtown and Uptown Vancouver on First Fridays, you’ll enjoy open galleries and places for drinking and dining. It’s during First Friday that Firehouse Glass is open to the general public. From 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. there is a public glass blowing demonstration in the Hot Shop, which is a wonderful opportunity to meet the artists and mingle with the local and regional glass working community.

Firehouse Glass is located at 518 Main Street on the South West corner of 6th and Main in downtown Vancouver.

 

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