by Matt Smylie & Evelyn Phillips
Glass—blown, etched and stained—is one medium that has gained in popularity as an expression of the artist who creates it and the whim of the homeowner who commissions it.
Jacques Bordeleau, a Wood River Valley resident for more than 30 years, fires his passion for the medium into his creations.
A printmaking student at the California College of Arts and Crafts, Bordeleau enjoyed the weeklong process of completing a project, but came to admire the speed of a glass-maker’s work.
“I liked the immediacy of glassblowing,” he says. “Someone could walk up to the furnace, and make something right then and there.”
During his senior year, Bordeleau arranged to take a glassblowing class. “Before, I had a two-dimensional background,” he says of his print work. “I have brought that design background to my glass work.”
Graduating in 1971, Bordeleau moved to Idaho the next year, initially planning to stay only a couple years. He extended that to a three-decade stint.
The advantage of glasswork, Bordeleau says, is its potential for a much longer life relative to canvas. “Other than the breakage factor, there’s a great deal more permanence than any kind of painting,” he says. “There are pieces of blown glass art that go as far back as King Tut.”
Living on the south side of Ketchum, Bordeleau’s studio has three kilns, many crates of unused glass and one of several computers he uses for designing and documenting the multiple steps involved in each project.
“At first, I scoffed at computers, because I can do anything I need with pencils and paper,” he says. “But now, it’s one of my most useful tools.”
Bordeleau works with many types of material, including fused, stained and laminated glass. Glass qualities differ quite a bit, he says, and what he chooses depends on the project. In certain cases, he will make a trip to dealers in Boulder, Colo., Houston, Texas, or California’s Bay Area to obtain high-quality materials.
The form and subject of Bordeleau’s projects vary wildly from client to client, ranging from entry door windows adorned with mountains, to iron and bronze chandeliers, to decorative butterflies at the Pharr, Texas, border crossing into Mexico. Most of Bordeleau’s commissions come from residential customers nationwide, as well as from commercial projects for companies such as Marriott Hotels and the Denver Petroleum Club.
Bordeleau just finished a large installation in a residence in Houston which combines all of the glass working techniques he has mastered. The glass mural stretches along an entire wall, wrapping around a corner, and features a band of faces and icons at eye level that represents a face-time continuum from mankind’s art history, starting with Amenhotep and ending with John Lennon. Leonardo daVinci’s anatomical man breaks the band with a large white field, and the rest of the background is made up of various kinds of black and deep colored glass. The originality of this glass installation is in the intricately painted facial icons, which include the Mona Lisa, the Statue of Liberty, Vincent Van Gogh and Norman Rockwell.
The new work is quite a progression from Bordeleau’s first etched glass pieces. When he began his career as a glass artist, Bordeleau says there was very little information about etching, so he improvised by drawing on his experience in airbrushing. “I just adapted methods from that and came up with something that works for me,” he says. “It’s become a style that sets mine apart from most of what you see.”
Bordeleau first used stencils and freehand drawings to create the images, then moved into the computer age and now uses its technology to both draw and revise the images. Bordeleau says the etching process can take a very long time. “I like doing it, but it’s not as creatively fulfilling for me anymore,” he says. “It’s the colors and vibrancy of the glass for stained or fused glass projects that really inspire me now.”
Painting on stained glass is a far cry from a palette of paints used for a canvas artwork, Bordeleau says. The colors for glass come from vitreous enamels—a term for finely ground, colored glass powder containing a variety of metallic oxides that Bordeleau mixes with a liquid medium for painting. With some pieces going into the kiln more than 20 times, Bordeleau says the results can never be predicted. Colors are like glazes, he says; what you paint with is not what will turn out when the piece is fired.
“Dealing with color is a matter of experience and intuition, and I still mess up sometimes,” he says. “You never quite know how the color will turn out until you fire it up and take it out.”
“But that’s just one of the exciting things about what I do.”•