John Pomp leads a one-person group on a tour through his glass-blowing studio within earshot of the El, in a neighborhood that’s not quite Northern Liberties, Fishtown or Kensington and across the street from a school’s wall that reads, “Spreading wings, rushing to be free. Soaring in the ocean blue blanket of sky.”
He pulls a metal, blow-into-the-cool-end rod out of a homemade oven that heats glass to about 2200 degrees. The blackened end is coated with a taffylike substance, caught between being a super-cool liquid and a solidified work of breakable art. It is a molten product, not yet ready for public display until very specific diamond sawing and very intuitive handcrafting occurs.
“When you see the finished piece, you really gain an appreciation that it came from pretty much being a blob,” says Pomp. The artist was born-and-raised in a western Pennsylvania steel town before learning his craft (and teaching it) at Temple’s Tyler School of Art, establishing himself in Brooklyn and returning to this work-in-progress studio about a year and a half ago. “I needed to find myself and what I was doing artistically,” he explains of the move-away-then-return chronology. “But it’s neat to be back in Philly, to see how it’s changed over the past decade or so.”
The place feels like a photo shoot set in a place where professional work fuses with personal passion. All around him sit pieces of glass that he and his team have blown, modern takes on an ancient art form. The sharp decor includes hanging light fixtures and half-aquariums growing plants. These creations will eventually be sold at the likes of Barney’s and Neiman Marcus.
Lately, Pomp has been focused on the commission from a sustainable Napa Valley vineyard to create a run of organic, environmentally conscious decanters. “The Touch,” as the item is called, speaks to the human touch’s longterm impact on nature. Pomp says the inspiration can be seen in how the middle of the eco-friendly decanter is indented as fingertip meets fingertip at the last stage of creation.
That touch came out of a trip he took to Napa, where he was taken on a tour of the winery’s Spring Mountain Estate, and the fields where the unfiltered, no-additives wine process begins. “I’d never really had the chance to talk to a winemaker before, but I found out quickly that we had similar philosophies in how we work. I quickly found out that they’re about not forcing the wine, and I’m not about forcing the glass,” he says, noting a similar let-nature-take-its-course aesthetic. “The decanter (style) was inspired by the trip. I wanted it to offer a ‘portrait’ of the wine, to create something beautiful and inspiring. But, I didn’t want to take anything away from the wine.”
One hundred signed-and-numbered versions of “The Touch” decanters will be sold on Newton Vineyard’s Web site (newtonvineyards.com) for $500 each starting on Earth Day—now international, the commemoration started here 40 years ago. Ten percent of the proceeds go to Global Green U.S.A., an affiliate of Green Cross International, which lobbies for environmental sustainability.
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