Bengt Hokanson and Trefny Dix live in a part of the Hamptons that might more properly be called the Un-Hamptons. Pine woods crowd their house. There's not a beach or jitney in sight. Sag Harbor is about three miles down the road, but may as well be a hundred. All things considered, this is the perfect place for their kind of art.
Adjoining the home where Hokanson was raised is a so-called "hot shop " where temperatures in a large blast furnace and an "annealer" can reach 2,100 degrees. Next to those is another furnace where globs of formless glass sit as they are pushed, pulled, woven or blown into fantastical shapes.
On a recent day, these furnaces sat cold, awaiting the arrival of a critical part replacement. But it's easy enough to imagine a typical afternoon here — an Industrial Age factory line straight out of Dickens, with enough heat to liquify metal or glass.
"You either love it or hate it," says Hokanson of glass blowing. That's easy enough to imagine why as well.
Some of their work is on display in the exhibit "Fire and Form: New Directions in Glass" at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook through Dec. 19, alongside that of two other distinguished glass blowers — Andy Stenerson of Amagansett and Marianne Weil of Orient.
"There are not a lot of glass blowers on Long Island but certainly more and more artists are here that are working with glass," says Joshua Ruff, the museum's director of Collections & Interpretation. "These four have an established body of work."
GETTING IT RIGHT
Glass blowing is a complicated and expensive craft which is exceedingly difficult to get right, and effortlessly easy to get wrong. Along with a handful of other glass blowers out here, Hokanson and Dix accomplished the former.
A married couple with two teen kids (Asha and Cassius, who have no particular interest in glass blowing so far, says Dix), both have been at this since meeting as students in New Orleans back in the early '90s, when Hokanson was studying archeology.
Late last summer Long Island Museum mounted an exhibit, which also runs through Dec. 19, devoted to the famed stained glass windows of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Ruff figured that because so many people "associate [Tiffany] with art, we decided to build an exhibit that showed a lot of other different aspects of the art of glassmaking."
Glass blowing is indeed hot — pun shamelessly intended — while there's a popular on-going Netflix series, "Blown Away," as proof of that. But the real action has long been in Seattle, where Dale Chihuly — along with the museums, hot shops and the Pilchuck Glass School dedicated to his work — is based. Some of the Chihuly-inspired work has achieved renown because it is so phantasmagorical, with its soaring curly-cues of glass spires as tall as buildings. By contrast, the Long Island Museum's exhibit is the miniaturist version of that. Small in scale yet equally exotic, there are some 50 works on display, nearly a third by those accomplished Long Islanders.
COLOR AND THEMES
The many pieces by Dix and Hokanson that are here tend to be what is more commonly associated with glass art in the popular imagination: Delicately curved vessels emblazoned with "murrine" color patterns or swirling with them. (Based on a technique that dates back 4,000 years, "murrines" are layers of color used to create patterns in the glass.)
Some of the Stenerson pieces are so-called "rondelles," or circles of glass sculpture, that are meant to be set in windows so that natural light can pass through them. Hanging from the ceiling nearby is a pair of Stenerson lamps designed to resemble lobster pots. (Maritime themes are big with the local artists: Hokanson and Dix incorporate various patterns meant to evoke sails in some pieces.)
Then, there are Weil's pieces. These include a pair of solid blocks of glass, cosseted in copper wire, both of which seem to manifest their own light source — various shades of blues and greens that issue from deep within.
"The thing to know about Marianne, and really everyone in this exhibit, with one exception — Deborah Czeresko [winner of the first season of "Blown Away"] — is that they all started out as something else early on," says Ruff. Weil was a sculptor, he says, who began to incorporate glass in her work about 15 years ago.
Coincidentally, so was Dix. "I had no interest in glass when I was a sculptor student," says Dix, who studied art at Indiana University. "But when I started working in a studio where they were casting glass, I saw a lot of similarities [with sculpture] and the glass was so much more interesting in terms of its colorbility and how the shape could change."
Hokanson and Dix began their first studio in Greenport, then moved that — lock, stock and barrel -- to North Carolina and later to Durango, Colorado, before relocating home in 2013.
"When we moved back," says Hokanson, "everything had changed [but] we also realized how important it was to be a Long Islander. … We had totally undervalued that."
WHAT "Fire and Form: New Directions in Glass"
WHEN | WHERE Through Dec. 19, noon- p.m. Thursday-Sunday, The Long Island Museum, 1200 Rte. 25A, Stony Brook
INFO $10, $7 age 62 and older, $5 age 6-17 and college students with ID, free age 5 and younger; 631-751-0066. longislandmuseum.org