FERNDALE — John Fitzpatrick had a degree in business and economics coming out of college and was set to take over the family business. With everything laid out in front of him, Fitzpatrick said he still couldn’t shed the notion that he needed to be doing something different.
Almost 40 years later, Fitzpatrick, now 61, is running and operating Touch of Light studio on Woodward Avenue in Ferndale. After telling his family he needed to chase a different dream, the Royal Oak native toured Europe, learned the art of glassblowing and came back to Michigan to hone his craft.
As one of the area’s finest glassblowing artists, Fitzpatrick was selected to be part of the Art Birmingham art festival May 11 and 12. Fitzpatrick will show off his work to customers and other artists and teach the public more about the art of glassblowing, he said.
“People have gotten more familiar with glass, but it didn’t always used to be the case,” Fitzpatrick said. “A lot that went on with glass, people didn’t know or understand — they just had it in their homes. Kids can go to school and they can paint or work with ceramics, so they are more familiar with that, and glass they are not, because of what is available.”
After diverging from the family business path, Fitzpatrick took his first art and crafts class in the late 1970s and had his first opportunity to work with glass. In 1979, he decided to travel around Europe and gain more inspiration.
With six months of seeing the sights under his belt, Fitzpatrick finally got his foot in a Swedish glass factory and started to learn the art.
“In the back of my mind, I knew if I found something I liked in Europe, and if I could learn it there, I would stay, but I never expected to stay long,” he said. “When I decided I wanted to do glass, a Swedish educator I met back in the States helped me get into a glass factory. From there, I went to school and did an apprenticeship, and even worked in some Danish studios.”
Fitzpatrick started out working four hours a day for a low wage at a glass factory while he lived in an apartment across the street in what he described as the Swedish countryside. While painting and drawing were more common mediums, Fitzpatrick was drawn by the way glass reacts with light.
“I guess glass inwardly drew me because I liked the color and the light and how it played with glass — for some reason, when I first blew it, I really liked the medium,” Fitzpatrick said. “I have done some painting, but with glass, you get to play so much more with light and color and it just reacts differently.”
After five years working in Europe, Fitzpatrick decided to head back to the Royal Oak and Ferndale area to open up his studio in 1984. A lot of American glass artists draw from Italian influence, he said, but his time in Sweden gave him a unique touch.
“The Swedish design is very simple and clean, while the Italians do an incredible amount of adorning,” Fitzpatrick said. “When I first came back here and did a show in Birmingham, some people asked if my work was made in a machine because it looked so perfect, but the Swedish quality of work is incredible. I learned some technical stuff there and got a really good foundation for blown glass.”
It is Fitzpatrick’s unique approach to the glassmaking process that made him a great artist to showcase at Art Birmingham, Max Clayton, Guild of Artist and Artisans executive director, said.
“He is a fabulous glass artist, and his work is really unique in that he manipulates his work so you see multiple colors and are deeply drawn in with really organic shapes,” Clayton said. “He finds the energy in the glass and does something a little different. We like to find a wide variety of artists and those that are the best in their medium, and I would say John is one of those.”
When Fitzpatrick first opened his studio, he started to work with color in his pieces. He sells pieces that range from $10 to $1,000, so there are things for anybody at his studio.
Art Birmingham will have several painters, drawers and photographers, but Fitzpatrick said he feels glass takes a special artist because of the work that goes into it.
“Glass is a medium that you have to be right there and focused because, if you slip for a second, it can change,” he said. “A painting, you can work on and come back to, but glass is a hot, glowing process that you have to be right with it or it is gone.”