My name is Sue Kutno and I began working with stained glass about 35 years ago. In about 4 years I got lead poisoning and had to stop working with the lead, giving up my business, shows and commissions. I was flipping out! At that time, in the '80's, there were no other techniques in glass that a home hobbiest could do besides stained glass. You could do glass blowing, but you had to apprentice at a glass factory forever. There were no hot shops around like there are today and with a growing family and living in suburbia I wasn't about to go off to learn glass blowing.
Then I heard about a new company called Bullseye Glass in Portland Oregon that was developing a new technique called fusing and slumping. I immediately called them, I lived in N.J. at the time, and bought their book called Glass Fusing-Book I. And now it's 35 years later. I never looked back.
There was a lot of experimenting at that time, no classes, with Bullseye being my only source of information - Lots of long distance calls (no cell phones)! There were no glass kilns, only sheet glass and not too many colors and not many choices of tools (whatever tools there were for stained glass we used) or design elements like laser cuts, pebbles, stringers and noodles. It was the dark ages! But I hobbled through and believe I was the first in the N.Y. area to do shows and sell my fused glass creations. Most people that were experimenting with fusing were in the northwest area near Bullseye .
First frit painting sent to Corning
Eventually in about 1989 I think, Bullseye came out with frit. I immediately bought every color in 5lb containers and started 'frit painting'. I don't know if anyone was seriously frit painting on the west coast, but I concentrated my glass making on 'painting' and eventually, a few years later, won The New Glass Review from Corning Museum of Glass for this new technique. Corning has their competition once a year open to all levels of glass artists. The year I entered and won there were 2300 entries. They choose 100 artists every year with new and innovative techniques in glass.
In 1991 my husband Irv and I moved to Sarasota, Fl. to retire....but of course we had to find something to do. We couldn't just sit around and relax, so we opened a little glass gallery and studio to fill our time. Glass Reflections, a glass gallery in the heart of the art gallery/antique district in Sarasota with my fusing studio, Glasstudio-West in the rear, was born. At that time I had enough room for one cutting table and a small kiln. In no time at all customers, after seeing my fused and slumped art wanted to learn how they could make glass, so I started teaching one on one. Eventually a space two doors down became available and I opened a larger studio where I taught fusing and slumping. Expanding the business, I brought in teachers to instruct stained glass and beadmaking. In 2000 'Sarasota School of Glass' was founded. We had 8 teachers and offered 30 different classes.
A few years later Irv and I bought a building 'out east', an up and coming area of Sarasota. Downtown was a very touristy/snow bird area, which meant seasonal business. 'Out East' meant year round business -- so we moved. Being downtown for 12 years and now moving to 'rural' Sarasota made me very nervous, but had proven to be the right decision. We changed our gallery name to 'International Glass Art Outlet' and re-opened my studio, now 'Firelite Glass' and school, 'Sarasota School of Glass'.
Four years later we again moved, expanding to larger quarters at Northgate Center and four years after that to Clark Rd. where we now have 3500 sq. ft. of space, sharing it with our sister company, Firelite Forms, which our daughter Jini now owns and runs with her husband Gary. We manufacture slumping molds for the glass fusing industry selling our products worldwide. We are proud to say that we are the largest manufacturer of slumping molds 'Made in the USA' with our pouring facility on premises.
Sarasota School of Glass recently has changed direction, enlarging it's work space for students in Open Studio and offering Technique Workshops as well as full classes. I have also added a separate schoolroom so that Open Studio students and classroom students can take advantage of the space at the same time. SSG now has a staff of 9 people whereas about 3 years ago it was just me!
What is in the future....only time will tell. In the meantime our calendar is full, students are returning again and again to learn new techniques and expanding their capabilities. Many are working independenly in our 'Open Studio' going on to open studios of their own.
Sue Kutno has also written a fusing book called "Everything You Wanted To Know About Fusing and Had No One To Ask", won the New Glass Review from Corning Museum of Glass and invented SureStik, an adhesive for fusing glass and a medium for powders and frit available in liquid or spray form.