Michael Allison is a professional glassblower, jewelry maker, and mixed media artist specializing in narrative sculptures. Living outside of the Nashville area in Joelton, Michael converted the cattle barn on his property into a fully operational glassblowing studio. Here, Michael works with glass, creates mixed media art, and teaches the art of blowing glass.
“I’ve always been an artist, for sure,” Michael says.
From an early age, Michael admired the beauty found in nature. Michael’s grandmother was a big advocate of his creativity. He recalls that when he was eight, she bribed him with an oil painting set in exchange for taking swimming lessons.
Born in Yankton, South Dakota, Michael has lived in various places across the U.S., including cities in Arizona, Utah, Texas, Alabama, and Louisiana. He’s also lived in major metropolitan areas like Atlanta and Los Angeles.
Michael jokes, “It’s all discombobulated in my mind, too, since I was all over the place when I was younger! There were parts of my life where I was traveling between a divorced mom and dad.”
Michael says that moving around as much as he did expose him to a lot of natural beauty and culture. Art was the ideal outlet for Michael, as it allowed him an escape from feeling so isolated. It served as a form of self-therapy. Sipping from so many cultural wellsprings helped Michael to become well-rounded.
After high school, Michael went to a community college to study digital animation and film production. He shares, “I quickly realized I didn’t like creating inside of a computer system. I wanted to actually build something with my hands.”
It wasn’t long after attending this college that Michael was exposed to the glass art of Dale Chihuly. Before college, Michael had been making jewelry and knew that something in the form of 3D art would be his calling. Seeing how glass was made, what it could do, and the fragility and risk involved, Michael instantly fell in love with the process.
According to the website for the Florida-based youth arts program DMG, “Glass blowing is a glass-forming technique that humans have used to shape glass since the 1st century B.C. The technique consists of inflating molten glass with a blowpipe to form a sort of glass bubble, that can be molded into glassware for practical or artistic purposes.”
Michael was enthralled with what he learned about the art of blowing glass. Still in Scottsdale, Arizona at the time, he found a glass studio not far away from where he was living. He offered the owner free labor in exchange for the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of the trade.
Michael worked for this glassblowing studio for a couple of years. Still, in his early 20s, Michael wanted to move on to other studios to see what he could learn. He moved in with his father—who was living in Atlanta at this time—and immediately found Janke Studios (Janke). He also offered his labor for menial work to Janke in exchange for the owner’s tutelage and permission to use the studio. The studio owner also accepted this offer.
Michael had grown to be a respected member of the team. However, the studio was still unable to pay him for his work. Michael found another opportunity at a bronze foundry operated by a friend of Janke’s owner. There, Michael learned to create large-scale bronze sculptures.
“That whole process was really fascinating to me. Here I was playing with fire in a different form—melting bronze—and making molds. Mold making transfers over into a lot of different mediums that I was really fascinated with,” Michael says.
Blowing glass and molding bronze at the same time allowed Michael to master two art forms at once. He describes the experience as a “brain explosion,” and constantly worried that he would forget crucial parts of either glassblowing or bronzing. But Michael’s interest in both modalities kept him in his seat. This dedication to each craft put the other in a new light for him.
“It was so valuable at that particular time in my life,” Michael says. Soon after learning to both blow glass and work at the foundry, he began officially working at Janke. This included teaching classes and assisting in various glasswork projects. Coming into his own as a glassblower, Michael rented Janke out for his own projects.
Michael stayed in Atlanta for almost 12 years. During this time, he taught glassblowing classes at both Savannah College of Art and Design, Atlanta, and Kennesaw State University through Janke. Janke served students as an off-campus classroom.
After finding the perfect property to build his own studio, Michael eventually moved to Middle Tennessee. He wanted more than just his own studio. He wanted extra space that he could use for various glassblowing and mixed media projects.
Michael says, “I needed land. As a sculptor of any medium, you accumulate a lot of stuff. Sometimes it’s junk that’s inspirational. Sometimes it’s the equipment you can use to do better work. Either way, I needed a piece of property with three acres and a barn for this reason.”
At the time Michael purchased his home, the barn was without a concrete foundation, electricity, or running water. Michael did much of the renovation work himself, converting the barn to his needs as a glass studio.
Today Michael creates art year-round, blowing glass and teaching classes during the winter months. Blowing glass requires a constant temperature of over 1000 degrees. This temperature must be carefully controlled in order to keep the glass from cooling too fast or breaking entirely. Because the heat from the glassblowing studio is intolerable during warmer months, Michael works on other mixed media wood and metal pieces during spring and summer.
It should be known that heat presents a number of other problems to the glassblower. According to the popular website How Stuff Works, “Blowing glass is challenging work, and there can be a lot of risks involved. Glass can crack and explode if it is not worked properly — and let’s not forget about burns. Plus, a lot of the ingredients in a glass batch are either toxic or if airborne, can cause respiratory problems over time.”
Michael is currently in the process of creating various works for future shows, including some onsite exhibits at his studio. He plans on growing his class size to teach the art of glassblowing to more students. He also plans on making some functional pieces.
Michael is represented by The Copper Fox Gallery in Leipers Fork, TN. For further information about his art, be sure to visit the gallery’s website.
You can watch the Artist Interview on Youtube below.
Here is the podcast interview with Michael for The Creative Push!
If you would like to see more photos with Michael while he was working visit Sheri Oneal Photography.
Story by Justin StokesContributor
Justin Stokes is a freelance journalist and professional writer based in Nashville, TN. He covers art, enterprise technology, and business. He is also a content creator for different industries, including real estate and the creative art community. He was the founder and editor of the online platform Launch Engine and is the lead writer for Tech Into Nashville.