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New fine art glassblowing gallery opens in Calistoga

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The fine art of glassblowing has come to Calistoga.

Mark and Michiko Weiner have opened their namesake gallery, Mark + Michiko, on the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Washington Street, a space they renovated to showcase their exquisitely hand-blown artifacts.

The Weiners relocated to the Napa Valley from Martha’s Vineyard earlier this year, where they had operated Martha’s Vineyard Glassworks for the past 27 years.

The duo have more than 50 years of experience between them, and their varied styles reflect and complement Mark’s previous work in France and Italy, and the minimalist aesthetic native to Michiko’s home country of Japan.

The Weiners' original plan was for their glassblowing studio to be located in the back of the gallery, so people could watch them at work. For economic and safety reasons, however, the workshop will instead be located just down the road, at 504 Washington St., the former longtime location of Glenn Pope Woodworking. The building will be used for the actual glassblowing, and the duo is hoping to start working on new pieces starting in December. Because of the zoning, the workshop will not be open to the public.

Luxury items

Glassblowing is a very specialized art that requires patience, heat tolerance and a willingness to work in hazardous conditions. The finished pieces can run into the thousands of dollars. That’s one of the reasons the Weiners chose Napa Valley for their new home.

“People come here (to Napa Valley) and they know they are going to spend money,” Mark said.

“The glass itself is a luxury object,” Michiko explained. “It’s not a necessity.”

“Yes, but people don’t really need wine that’s 300 dollars a bottle either,” Mark chimed in.

Over the past several years, the Weiners watched as life on Martha’s Vineyard evolved. The demographic of their client based changed as more short-term visitors began to frequent the area. Plus the visitor season was short.

“The customer base shifted and became more transient,” Mark said, “And more focused on the beach.”

“The island was just not the place for us anymore,” Michiko said.

The couple scoped out several locations, including Park City, Utah, Denver, and Austin, Texas, before settling on Napa Valley.

“Within 36 hours we knew this was the place,” Mark said.

They were attracted to the vibrant arts scene, and the “economic confluence,” Mark said.

But what really sold it was the local community of affluent professionals, particularly those in the wine industry. “The people pulling in six-figures, that’s really our clientele.”

“(Tourist business) is seasonal here too, but the period is much longer,” Michiko said.

Art evolves

Mark has been blowing glass for more than 40 years. Michiko met Mark when she went to work for him at a gallery he co-owned in Martha’s Vineyard. She said she has learned a lot from him, and she herself has been blowing glass professionally for 17 years.

The Weiners now live in St. Helena with their two children, ages 13 and 10. The kids have learned glassblowing from their parents, though Mark says they hold no expectations for them to follow in their footsteps.

Glass blowing is a multi-step process that begins with a powdered substance called a batch, which is heated to a molten state in a furnace that reaches temperatures sometimes exceeding 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Toxic powders of crushed glass used in the artifacts can also create dangerous toxins, requiring specialized containment.

A challenge can be convincing people to get over the fact that the final product is fragile. But Michiko said it’s not a scary thing.

“We like to break that preconception down,” Mark said, with no pun intended.

Despite their years of experience, Mark and Michiko say they are still learning.

“It’s like painting, or anything else, it depends where your level of satisfaction is,” Michiko said.

“Both of us have a really high bar,” Mark said, and they often look to the natural world for inspiration. “The natural world has all these proportional systems and relationships and expansion can jump-start things.”

Among Michiko’s signature pieces are bud vases that hold just a few stems, with the glass winding up and around them. The design has been evolving for more than a dozen years, she said, and the vases are just now starting to get larger.

“It’s an evolution of vision,” Mark said. “If you stop learning, what’s the point?”

French vintner Jean-Charles Boisset gives a brief tour of renovations for the historic Calistoga Depot

You can reach Cynthia Sweeney at 942-4035 or csweeney@weeklycalistogan.com.

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