You don’t expect Wimberley Glassworks. The brilliant yellow, forest green, and chile red gallery and glassblowing studio is just south of the small village of Wimberley. Step inside and you’ll think you’re in an elegant art gallery in a major metropolitan center.
This is the brainchild of glass artist Tim de Jong. It was his dream. And the reality is so appealing to visitors that Wimberley Glassworks will celebrate with a 20th Anniversary Glass Bash on Saturday, May 26.
“When I first got here I was told I wouldn’t make it,” Tim recalls. “But the people in Wimberley are absolutely wonderful. I was very lucky to end up here.”
Tim came to Wimberley in 1992 while visiting a friend in Round Rock. When he saw Wimberley, he fell in love with the village.
His first studio was basically a huge shed. It was enough of a success that he dreamed up a bigger, better building.
That happened in 2006. Building what he wanted meant creating an air conditioned hot shop with seating for 89 spectators who can watch the liquid fire of glass art being created in comfort, far more than at the old building. And it has twice the parking.
“Building this place was a huge risk,” Tim says. “I designed it to be a glass studio from the ground up. It’s the first thing on this side of town that people see with name of ‘Wimberley’ on it. I’m proud of that.”
Of course he’s proud. A visit here will delight all your senses.
You can observe the thrilling glassblowing process where artists twirl and mold molten glass into stunning pieces of art, and then shop in the gallery for your very own piece of art glass. Inside you’ll find vessels and lamps and lighting fixtures and jewelry, and decorative pieces in vibrant colors and combinations that you never knew existed.
Tim enjoys sharing his love of glass with visitors. They find the process fascinating. They understand and respect the act of taking simple ingredients and making something new and beautiful out of them.
“I have so much fun with our customers” he says. “And it’s exciting to have a venue to meet all the very different people who come here.”
Tim saw his first glass demonstration at the age of eight, got enamored with the art when he was in college, and studied ceramics, sculpture, and glass at Alfred University in New York before earning his BFA at Philadelphia’s Tyler School of Art.
“I entered school to be a potter,” Tim recalls. “But I took a glassblowing class and was hooked.”
The immediacy of glass is what attracted him.
“Once you start working with it, you can’t walk away,” he explains. “You have to stay present and focused. You have to be 100 percent present. It’s a constant challenge and a constant reward. I love it. It’s completely unplugged. You’re working with tools that are 2,000 years old. You work with your heart, mind, and hands. It’s fascinating to work with. I keep learning and I love the fact that I’m still learning.
“I get inspiration everywhere, from a rose petal to the people around me — even the ones I don’t get along with.”
Tim points out that one of things that makes Wimberley Glassworks unusual is that they make functional artwork, allowing people to put a piece of art in their home that actually works.
That’s what attracted customers Deborah Walston and Jack Kraatz of Palestine. Their first purchase was a simple vase. Now they own lamps, sconces, chandeliers, and more vases.
“It’s eye candy,” Deborah explains. “You always see something new in the glass.”
What they and others have discovered is that Wimberley Glassworks produces lighting that will turn you on even when it’s off.
Their customers are about 85 percent Texans and the rest are from as far away as New York City. Many people visit Wimberley because of its reputation for arts and bed and breakfast inns and Market Day and its scenic location in the valley carved by the Blanco River and Cypress Creek. Many visit because they spent younger years enjoying Rocky River Ranch or 7A Ranch.
Wimberley Glassworks has a growing commercial base as well. Stunning works are displayed prominently in office buildings in Addison, Austin, Dallas, Houston, and Plano, for example.
“The clients I have are super loyal,” Tim says. “Made-in-Texas is a huge deal and everything is made right here. We’re a homegrown Texas business. It was born here and grew up here. I’ve had tremendous support because we’re a Texas business.”
Last summer someone in China approached Tim asking to buy his business. Tim declined. “This is a Texas company and it should stay in Texas,” he says. “That made me rethink the company. It made me realize that we’re not just blowing glass in a shed; we have something of value here.”
In a way, Tim says Wimberley Glassworks’ success is terrifying because it’s grown so large.
“Creatively it’s difficult to come up with new designs every year. Sometimes I struggle to keep myself inspired when I have bills looming,” he explains. Then he laughs. “Nearly every morning when I walk in here my right brain and my left brain have an argument. I want to play, but I have to pay the bills.”
Tim admits he doesn’t have all the answers, so he hires people who do know some of the answers.
“If it’s handled well, that person develops confidence and the gallery grows. You check your ego at the door,” he says. “We design as a group, so we have five or six creative minds working on one idea and that way we can come up with a pattern no other glass studio in the country can touch.”
Even the lowest assistant can come up with something that will make a piece better, Tim says.
Wes Sweetzer has worked at Wimberley Glassworks for eight years. He worked his way up from an assistant to production manager.
He loves glass art for similar reasons Tim has: “It’s creative. It’s something different all the time.” And for Wes, Wimberley Glassworks is definitely the place to work.
“It’s got its own niche market here,” he says. “Not a lot of glass companies do this. It’s hard for a start-up business to get support. Too many companies do the minimum and sell at other galleries. It’s great to be a part of something established this well. I know a lot of people who have to work at other jobs to support their glassblowing habit. I get paid for doing what I love.”
What’s not to love? Roaming the gallery, you will see art that ranges from the everyday— hummingbird feeders, tumblers, pitchers — to the extraordinary — massive iron and glass chandeliers, unique lampshades that change color from off to on, and beautiful swing vases and bottles. Then you get to see how it’s all made. So simple, so complex. The work is, essentially, the artists’ love frozen in glass.
“I get to do what I love to do every day,” Tim says. “This place is who I am.”
Wimberley Glassworks is located at 6469 Ranch Road 12 between Wimberley and San Marcos. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Glass blowing on Tuesday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Gallery and glass blowing demonstrations are free. For more information, call 800-929-6686 or visit the web site at www.wgw.com.