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Glass-blown Beauty: Artist creates sculptures on the Destin Harbor

Savannah Chastain
Gary Harris holds one of his most popular glass sculptures, the dolphin.

You can find him sitting in his kiosk next to AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar, surrounded by miniature glass animals and greeting passersby with a smile and a joke. Gary Harris has been working as a glass blower in the Destin area for 17 years and has perfected the art of glass sculpting while entertaining onlookers.

“I really enjoy this,” he said. “If I don’t laugh and joke, what is there? I love what I do.”

Harris told The Log that one of the most popular questions he is asked by children is if he’s ever burnt himself.

“It depends on my mood how I answer,” he said. “I either say, ‘No, never,’ then shake my hand really fast and say, ‘Now look what you made me do!’ Or I say, ‘All the time.’ Or sometimes I really get them and I say, ‘Only three times in my life because I only count when it looks like charcoal.’”

Harris said that he picked up the skill of glass blowing from his father at the young age of seven.

“My father was a self-taught glass blower,” Harris said. “Dad blew glass at Fudpucker’s, the Lucky Snapper, and even at Eglin during Christmas.”

Under the name, “The Glass Man,” Harris worked with his father, learning the business until he was in his teens.

“I started my own business and branched off from my father when I was sixteen,” he said. “I blew glass on Okaloosa Island at the Boardwalk my first summer.”

  When asked to describe his tools, Harris just laughed and held up a butter knife.

“You mean high-tech tools like this here, my high-tech butter knife? Or this, an antenna for a radio? They’re multi-tools,” he said explaining that he uses the tools to design shark teeth, scales on fish and eyeballs among other things.

“I keep the real high-tech tools at the house so they don’t get rusty and covered in salt,” he said, adding that the climate on the harbor corrodes even stainless steel tools in just a few days.

Harris uses Pyrex synthetic crystal as his medium, saying that the material is actually five times stronger than traditional glass.

“It’s fairly durable,” he said tapping the rod several times on the table to demonstrate.

As for his technique, Harris fired up his torch, and gave the run-down.

“I’ll start with a glass rod, and stripe it with some colors. I heat it up in the torch to get it all one temperature, that way when I take it off it cools evenly.”

Harris explained that if the glass is heated or cooled unevenly, the glass with develop a stress line and crack.

“Very few glass blowers can do it because you have to take it to the point of almost distorting it,” he said.

Placing the rod in the fire, it didn’t take long before it began to melt and transform into a liquid-like consistency. Using another rod as a guide, Harris began shaping the glass with amazing speed.

“If people want their names made I start out with a 6-millimeter rod, and bend it and shape it into their name,” he said. “Then I add sharks, scuba divers, dolphins and other small things to it if they like.”  

For the larger, more complex sculptures, Harris uses his home kiln to fire and fuse the piece together.

“The kiln is for enlarged pieces or something that has a lot of parts,” he said. “I’m kind of limited by the size of my kiln, which is a one foot square.”

For pieces with added flare, Harris likes to use 22-carat gold trim, and mounts of coral, teak wood or Manzanita pearl wood.

If a client wants sparkle or a frosted look, Harris enlists his wife to paint the details.

“Everything that’s gotta be detailed or painted, my wife does,” he said. “She uses a glass stain mixed with glitter, and then paints it up so it sparkles.”

When asked what the most popular item asked for is, Harris said, “Dolphins. You can never have enough dolphins.” He added that other popular requests are shark, manta rays, and manatees.

Harris tells every passerby that he can make more than what they see before them, and that he greatly enjoys making custom pieces.

“I like to tell people I’m only limited by the size of my imagination,” said Harris. “I tell people if they let me borrow theirs I can do more.”

Crystal Creations by the Glass Man, is located directly alongside of AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar near 116 Harbor Blvd.

Harris can be contacted in person at his kiosk from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. or online at www.facebook.com/glassman1881?fref=ts.