Bryon Sutherland Works Hard to Create National Marketplace
Gridley resident Byron Sutherland has been on a dead run since 2006. That's when he evaluated his situation as a freelance artist who was renting studio space to blow glass.
"I did some wholesale shows and started to get some big orders," said Sutherland, who earlier had worked and developed his skills at Chico's famous Orient and Flume - a glassblowing studio pioneer of the 70s.
"I couldn't keep up with the orders ... It was in the back of my mind ... having my own studio ... it just seemed to be too expensive and out of reach."
Charla (his then girlfriend and now his wife of five years) worked to support the young couple at the Starbucks on Highway 99 in Gridley.
"I needed studio space and I needed equipment," Sutherland said, a graduate of California State University, Chico, with a bachelor's degree in fine arts and an emphasis in glass sculpture.
According to Sutherland, Audrey Taylor of Chabin Concepts had the answer. She was assisting the City of Gridley with economic development at that time. Taylor helped him find studio space and connected him with 3CORE - a private, non-profit corporation that works as an economic development planning and coordinating agency that specializes in small business loans for Butte, Glenn and Tehama counties.
"I needed a furnace - the heart of any studio - and those run $15,000-$30,000. I also needed cushion money to pay bills and get everything rolling."
Sutherland's Gridley location is part of a 35-acre abandoned fruit cannery that was once one of the largest peach and pumpkin canning operations in the world. Today, ironically and perhaps poetically, Sutherland blows "Fizzlefruit" peaches and pumpkins there. This 900-years-old Venetian technique carbonates glass with baking soda, creating the effervescent effect.
Sutherland studied in New York at the renowned Corning Museum of Glass with Bill Gudenrath, master Venetian glass artist, for whom he later worked, by invitation, as his teaching assistant.
Sutherland admits that his bread and butter are the gorgeous Fizzelfruit where the skin of the sculpture has a transparent appearance and the core of the paperweight explodes with bubbles. "It makes them look wet," he said.
Currently, Sutherland features Fizzlefruit varieties in three apples, three pears, three citrus, three plums, a peach and a strawberry and three colored grapes - a glass cornucopia of beauty. There are 17 different fruit items designed for collectors and he has plenty of admirers at $40 a piece or three items for $100. Pumpkin and peppers are blown, not sculpted, and feature no carbonation. You can find them at Sutherland Glass Art.
Fifflefruit isn't his only specialty. Sutherland said he recently installed his first chandelier in Redwood City. He also makes beautiful vases and sculptures inspired by the sea.
Remember the dead run?
Sutherland did 63 shows last year all over the country - 30 by himself. He does have an assistant, Josh Freidas. Word is that he's been invited by Costco to a wholesale show in Nevada. His work is also in major galleries throughout the United States and Canada. It takes more than hard work to make it, though - especially in a challenging economic environment.
To purchase or learn more about Sutherland Glass Art, please visit Sutherland Glass Art. The best way to keep Bryon and his family in Butte County is to help spread the word. Become a fan.