Glass with Class
photography by Jeff Strout
EVER SINCE ANCIENT TIMES when people found uses for the byproduct of lightning striking sand, glass has been a vital commodity. The most common uses are in the manufacture of windows, lenses and bottles, but it has also evolved into a colorful art form.
This is where Juli Juneau excels.
A native of Charleston, South Carolina, who made her home in New Orleans in 1989, Juli is a world traveler and the creator of Nomad Collection. In 1999, while she was the local vice president of CNN news radio, she started blowing glass as a hobby. Her passion developed into an avocation, and collectors followed.
Today, with over 20 years of expertise, Juli’s creations are offered for sale in more than a dozen galleries and displayed in museums throughout the South. Many of her works are in private collections, including those of the following celebrities: Sir Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Dave Chappelle and Oprah Winfrey.
In a recent interview as a featured artist at Ariodante Gallery on Julia Street’s “Gallery Row,” Juli shared some of her expertise in the complexities of the glass-blowing process, explaining how raw material transforms into a colorful masterpiece.
“The pieces start out the same way,” she began. “I begin with a tiny bubble. The glass is 2,200 degrees, like molten lava. With my 5-foot blowpipe, I open the door to the tank of molten glass and gather glass on the end of the pipe. Then I start, gingerly at first, blowing a bubble.”
From there the process gets more involved; success depends on two main elements, timing and temperature. The glass on the end of the pipe has to remain hot and in a fluid state while it’s being shaped and layered with colors, but maintaining the right temperature is critical.
“If it’s too hot, it collapses on itself. If it’s too cold, it cracks,” Juli explained. “Either way it’s a total throwaway. You can’t fix it or melt it and make something else. You must start over from scratch.”
After more blowing, layering and shaping with wooden and metal tools, the piece is transferred to another 5-foot pipe where the final finessing happens.
When the piece is fully shaped, it is placed into a 950-degree computerized oven where it will stay overnight until the temperature drops to 130 degrees. Then the piece is ready for the final sanding and polishing.
Over the years that Juli has been blowing glass, her skill set has expanded greatly from making wall art to intricate bowls, glass balls and other colorful pieces that are both utilitarian and decorative works of art.
Her custom designs include working with cremated ashes of deceased loved ones and pets, encasing them in an urn, glass heart or paperweight. “With cremation being a choice of so many people today, having a memorial piece for family members is very important,” Juli said.
Juli has been commissioned to create glass sculptures and other decorative installations for hospitals, senior living centers, hotels, botanical gardens, private homes and other public and private facilities. On a smaller scale, she exhibits and sells at juried art festivals in and around the Southern U.S. throughout the year. She’s a familiar face, sharing her art and explaining the process to locals and visitors alike.
A seasoned world traveler and adventurer, Juli has been to more than 80 countries on five continents, drawing inspiration and ideas from her sojourns. For two and a half years she trekked solo by whatever means were available, including pirogues and animal-drawn carts, through 23 African nations starting in Dakar, Senegal, and ending in Cape Town, South Africa.
Most recently, over the course of 25 days, Juli traversed – on foot – the 500-mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across the Pyrenees from France into and across Spain to the shrine Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. “The Camino was such a magical trip, and it was really hard, but it was one of the most special things I’ve ever done,” Juli said. She also ran with the bulls in Pamplona and managed to escape unscathed.
Summing up her eventful life and her unique art form, Juli mused, “I am very blessed that what was once a private hobby has become my full-time passion and is a unique part of myself that I can share with others. By bringing to life their dreams and visions, I am fulfilling mine.”
Juli Juneau’s work can be viewed and ordered online at www. nomadcollection.com or at Instagram@julijuneau. To commission a work or for other inquiries call (504) 615-2113 or email jjuneau@ nomadcollection.com. You can also follow her on her Facebook page.