Virtu is a unique boutique at The Art Colony Shops located in the Alabama Row at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs. Celebrating its 4th season, Virtu features works of glass and designer jewelry by husband and wife co-owners Alex Brand and Susan Chapman Thomas. Susan, a native from Bluefield, met Alex while traveling to an art show in Milwaukee. They continued doing art festivals together across the country before setting up shop in Greenbrier County.
The couple recently completed construction on an ultramodern glassblowing studio in a vacant maintenance building adjacent to Virtu. Alex and his assistant James Woodson now create their original glass artwork in furnaces coated in Emisshield, a material developed by NASA as a heat shield for the space shuttle. Visitors are always welcome to shop and browse The Art Colony Shops. Likewise, the public is also encouraged to join resort guests for free demonstrations by glass artisans at work in the new studio.
Alex and James put together a presentation that shatters misconceptions about the simplicity of glassmaking. Molding molten glass into wondrous works of art requires far more skill than luck. The wall of intense heat and fierce roar of furnaces when you enter the studio lets you know it is treacherous terrain for the untrained. Alex, a Master Glassblower for 32 years, and James, a glass craftsman at the world-famous Blenko Glass Company in West Virginia, both admit to being burned by their precarious craft.
The pair also quickly pointed out their presentation is still in tryouts, but you’d never know it by the “oohing” and “ahing” from the audience at their inagural public show. I personally found the hour-long experience fascinatingly flawless. I was hypnotized by every roll, dip and twirl choreographed into their delicate dance of glassblowing.
The pair started by making a shimmering pumpkin out of a marble-sized speck of glass. Like Cinderella’s carriage, the glassy pumpkin came to life with each wave of an iron wand. The dazzling display demonstrated in the duos introductory piece set the tone for a mesmerizing metamorphism of molten magic to come.
The packed audience was rapt as whirling glass orbs swirled in front of them and took on an amazing array of colorful glowing shapes. The back-and-forth ballet of reheating and blowing, intertwined with a taffy pull between gravity and centrifugal force, created yet another one-of-a-kind piece of performance art—this time, a vase.
Some of the theatrical set pieces incorporated into the show include carved cherry wood tools, pipe warmers, a tank furnace heated to 2100˚ F (for melting), a glory hole (reheating furnace) and annealer (cooling furnace). When combined with perfectly timed steps of two seasoned pros who don’t miss a beat, you get another imaginative and unforgettable experience at The art colony at The Greenbrier is open 10am – 5pm every day from April 1 to Jan 1. Complimentary glassblowing demonstrations are offered at 3:00pm, Tuesday through Saturday, at Virtu Glass Blowing Studio. No glass blowing SUNDAY AND MONDAY. For more information, call 304-536-1110 ext. 7447.
– Jim Shock, LBSPY #43 (Oct 7-21, 2013) Photos for this article by Jim Shock.
HASHTAGWV ART & ENTERTAINMENT Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, Christina Entenmann-Edwards has been a WV resident since September 2008. She was born and raised in Fairfield County, Connecticut, and is no stranger to hard work and the entrepreneurial spirit. In 2006, she graduated from Quinnipiac University (Hamden, Connecticut), Cum Laude, with a B.A. in History. In 2010, she graduated with an M.B.A. from Liberty University (Lynchburg, Virginia). In February 2012, Christina launched HashtagWV as the area’s first full-color, free arts and entertainment tabloid + online platform. Christina completed the Leadership West Virginia class of 2021, which is an innovative program that grows, engages, and mobilizes leaders to ignite a life passion to move West Virginia forward.