Oconee glassmaker observes 25 years in one studio

Twenty-five years ago, Loretta Eby rented a studio at Happy Valley Pottery to make glass art.

To this day, she is still in the building, where she shapes melted glass into pieces that have found their way into galleries and homes across the nation.

“When you’re young you don’t think about how long you’re going to be somewhere,” said the Elkhart, Ind., native.

“When I rented this space there was one person out here and he was a photographer and lived in the back of the building,” she recalled.

Prior to moving to Happy Valley off Carson Graves Road in south Oconee County, she shared a studio with two other glass blowers, Paul Bendzunas and Gina Montgomery.

Bendzunas now works at a studio in Comer, while Eby said she lost track of Montgomery a decade ago.

On Nov. 23-25, Eby will host an open house to celebrate her 25 years at Happy Valley. She will be giving glass blowing demonstrations with the help of an assistant and her husband Jeff Jackson, a metal sculptor.

“I’ll probably make a commemorative glass to commemorate 25 years in my chicken house,” she said with a laugh.

When she first moved into the studio those many years ago, she had an unfortunate sidetrack.

“We rented space in August and I had a car accident two months later and couldn’t make glass for a year,” she recalled.

Being a glass blower is not a part-time endeavor, according to Eby.

“You have to really want to be a glass blower because you burn so much energy. You can’t just do it on weekends because the furnace has to burn all the time,” she said.

The furnace remains at a constant 2,000 degrees, and Eby noted she burns through 700 gallons or propane fuel each year.

“It takes four days to get the furnace up to the temperature where I actually have glass,” she said. And if she decided to shut the furnace down, it takes five days for it to cool enough to open it.

After high school, Eby went to an art institute in Cleveland, Ohio, then spent two summers as assistant at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina as she honed the art of glass blowing. While working in her studio at Happy Valley, she has traveled to art shows and conducted glass blowing workshops at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine and Pilchuck Glass School in Washington state.

“I’ve always made glass for a living,” she said.