Jeremy Bartheld was born and raised in the Yakima Valley, took art classes through middle and high school, and on to the college level. But it was not until he moved to the rain-soaked community of North Cove that his glass art truly blew up.
Valley residents can access his work in several ways. Of course, social media provides an easy outlet for many of the pieces. Last fall, his new line of glass sculptures was included in a Windows Alive! exhibit along Yakima Avenue showcasing six artists. It was great exposure and a way to introduce the project, according to Bartheld. The kelp-like sculptures, intended to add color and beauty inside or out, are made from 13-15 pieces of glass melted in a large ceramic crucible in his hot shop before being blown, colored and shaped.
“My favorite display is the Dale Chihuly glass ceiling in the lobby of the Bellagio resort in Las Vegas,” Bartheld said. “No matter how many times I see it, it gives me goosebumps and inspires me to keep creating.” His own sculptures are somewhat limited in size because, unlike larger studios where artists have helpers working on each piece, Bartheld is a solo artist — and one with just two hands.
“I make the sculptures with a little different technique,” he explained. “I blow the glass with a copper tube and use a grinder to cut it off, leaving a piece of the copper that I then use to mount the glass into a pot. I am rather proud of the method because it took some ingenuity to figure out how to do it by myself.”
Bartheld admitted that the twisted, flowing pieces were born like most of his projects — out of curiosity and an “urge to collect more equipment and do more stuff.” That wish was also helped along in 2013, when Bartheld moved to North Cove after his place in the East Valley area was taken by Yakima County to restructure the Yakima River dike system. He was able to reassemble both his hot shop and his lamp-working studios. He also expanded the amount of time he works and the types of pieces he makes.
“The 60-70 inches of rain a year has been an adjustment,” Bartheld said, “but it was impossible to work in the shop year-around in Yakima. When it was zero or above 95 I couldn’t do it.” His equipment inventory keeps growing and includes a furnace, propane-fired blowtorches and a modified pottery kiln. The lamp-works provide Bartheld’s “bread and butter.” It is where he produces glassware supplies for the marijuana market in Washington state. The communications major who always thought he would be an attorney maintains a separate Facebook page, Elements Glass Smoking Accessories, an over-18 site, for that side of his business. He keeps his family-friendly J Bartheld Glass page dedicated to the sculptures and solar sea floats as well as any new glass art.
Bartheld’s latest project is a collaboration with a stone carver and professional landscaper who creates and installs large basalt sculptures. Bartheld has created glass sculptures that come out of the top of the rock and include water features.
For the past year, cremation pendants have been a growing part of Bartheld’s business. His next venture may be a throwback to a dying art — neon, the way lighted glass signs used to be made. With the advent of LED technology, neon has seen a rapid decline in popularity. There are still artisans who work in the medium, mainly repairing or restoring existing neon signs. Bartheld explained that he recently met and worked with a retired neon worker from TAG, Tube Art Group’s Yakima plant.
“I want to light up my sculptures and I have always liked neon signs,” Bartheld said. “That glass art skill is about to die because it is not useful anymore and I would like to learn as much information as possible and pass it on, perhaps help prolong the art if I can.”
Bartheld’s artist’s curiosity has also taken a turn into metal work. He explained that he is “playing with scavenged materials and building crazy ‘Mad Max’ themed props.” While he claims the efforts have not yet turned out anything he is proud of, Bartheld would like to attend Wasteland Weekend, a five-day post-apocalyptic festival held in the Southern California desert.
“It seems like any art that deals with fire seems to draw my interest,” Bartheld noted. And his work does seem particularly connected to nature. Whether it be as old as neon or as trendy as basalt yard sculpture, whether it be the Pacific Ocean near the mouth of Willapa Bay or along the banks of the Yakima River, earth, water and fire seem to inspire and nurture creativity. They also provide the elements needed for a man with vision to turn out beautiful artwork.