Ken Frybarger is an alchemist of sorts, transforming simple rods of glass into colorful, swirling universes captured in a solid mass as a marble, paperweight, pendant, bead or bottle stopper.
The process is called lampworking and requires a torch flame to melt the glass, enabling it to be manipulated into frozen artifacts of the artist’s vision.
“Art is so uniquely human with a language which is at the same time personal yet universal, both current and historical. I feel that what I make today will become artifacts,” Frybarger said. “These glass artifacts are an account of my existence in time frozen within the matrix of this material. My creations will far outlast me.”
Frybarger’s intent is to create a sense of wonderment in whomever views his work. It is easy to believe that he has succeeded when gazing into his creations, which contain otherworldly landscapes that seem to travel beyond their confinements.
“Nature, science and the human condition, past, present and future, is where I find inspiration. The ocean and all the mysteries found there intrigue me as well as our universe,” Frybarger said. “There is no limit to the bizarre images and theories concerning the Earth and beyond. Hubble Telescope photos that I can’t wrap my mind around are a constant source of amazement.”
Frybarger notes in his artist statement that his fascination with glass started with a small glass knob on the steering wheel of a 1954 Chevrolet. “It had a clear face with a green four-leaf clover floating inside,” he writes. “I loved just looking at it.”
He attended Rogers High School and at 21 became a Kaiser employee for 12 years. During that time, he built a log cabin north of Spokane. Without electricity, he used hand tools, chisels, and a chain saw. Old books and conversations with others aided in the building of his home, where he lived for five years after leaving Kaiser. “It was a simple life,” he said. The cabin has two solar panels, a bank of batteries, oil, propane and wood.
He went on to work at Inchelium High School as a custodian/handyman for two years and then as a groundskeeper at Gonzaga University for 17 years. No stranger to using his hands, he filled his idle time with soap carving and lapidary work.
In 1990, his wife, Carole, encouraged him to go back to school, and in 1992 he earned a certificate in fine arts from Spokane Falls Community College. He also did independent study with local glass-blowers and attended the Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Wash. He took lampworking classes at Spokane Art School and also studied the craft privately.
He has since demonstrated his lampworking skills and shown his work in over a dozen public venues, including Simply Sublime Art Gallery in Seattle and The Entrée Gallery in Priest Lake, Idaho.
Now retired, he is making art full time in his home studio, Atelier of Glass by Ken, in the Nine Mile Falls area, diligently working his magic on once-dormant materials.