By Deb Everts
Thomas Militello has a passion for making glass art, especially marbles. He creates his wondrous art in his studio located on a hill overlooking Gowanda, Comet Creations, located at 10527 Maltbie Road. His studio is housed in a garage he is currently upgrading to be a comfortable work space for him to create his glass art without distraction.
Using nature as his inspiration, his works feature all kinds of glass art, utilitarian and decorative, including paperweights, bowls, plates, glass beads, pendants, earrings, perfume bottles and glass marbles — his specialty. Inside these delicate orbs are beautiful glass objects he also creates ranging from flowers and mushrooms to confetti, vortexes and outer space designs.
Militello said he has trained at the Corning Museum of Glass under renowned glass artists, John Kobuki of Seattle, Wash., Hugh Salkind of Eugene, Ore., and Suellen Fowler of Vallejo, Calif., who are his mentors. He keeps current with the latest techniques and updates his skills by taking another class each year.
According to Militello, the Corning classes are difficult to get into. Because there is room for only nine students, they are chosen on a lottery system. He was one of the lucky applicants because he got into the first class he applied for in 2012.
“It wasn’t easy. I burned my hand and I struggled. I think I made 12 marbles in the entire week, and none of them are round because I was just starting out. I have every single one of them in a case in my house,” he said. “I felt like a kindergartener in college, but it was such an experience because I was in this environment where I was surrounded by other people who had the same passion and interest.”
Although an eye for design is helpful, Militello said it’s not always necessary. He has marbles he calls his “end of day series” that are created from a jar of glass scraps of colors he has used for different projects.
He said the flower marbles take some skill and are very meticulous. It might take him as long as two hours to build the glass stringers in various colors that will be used for the flower parts before he puts a piece together. He said it’s similar to pulling warm taffy.
Some of his marbles are created in a “vortex design” that is an optical illusion when a person looks inside. He has another design created with a technique that looks like “outer space” as the viewer peers into it.
“Glass art is an ongoing learning experience and it’s more about muscle memory,” he said. “You want to keep the glass horizontal and at a 90-degree angle to the flame most of the time. The molten-glass will move toward the source of the heat, so you use gravity and the source of the heat to manipulate the glass piece.”
Militello said creating his art is quite expensive. A bottle of oxygen costs him $28 and he can go through it in a day-and-a-half. Although it’s costly, he said it’s rewarding and relaxing.
According to Militello, he currently has some products in stores on Market Street in Corning. He said Corning has art critics that rate the artists’ work, and they also have buyers.
“I have a hard time selling some of my marbles because I really like them, but it’s pretty cool when I get to meet people who buy them. They ‘dig’ what I’m doing and I know my art will be appreciated,” he said.
When Militello first moved to Gowanda about 25 years ago, he started collecting old, vintage marbles. He thought they were cool and they reminded him of his past. Glass working began for him in 2010 when he started dabbling with it making small glass beads and marbles from his garage. In 2014, he retired as a sergeant in corrections, after 26 years; then glass art became his main focus. On his journey of traveling around to different marble shows, he met glass artists who made marbles and he’s been hooked ever since.
Militello does annual marble and glass shows in West Virginia and Ohio, but he prefers to do his glass art demonstrations at his studio, rather than boxing the glass up and taking them to shows. He participated in the Cattaraugus County Arts Council’s Routes to Art Open Studio Tours for a number of years. When that annual event ended, he decided to host his own annual open studio event.
“I promote my art pretty much by word-of-mouth, and I generally do just a few small shows that I pick and choose from,” he said. “Every spring, I do a show at the Slovenian Club of Gowanda. Then, I do an open studio tour here at my studio the first weekend of May every year. The doors open at 9 a.m.”
Regular studio hours are by appointment only. To see Militello’s glass art, call 864-9904 or email him at email@example.com.