The Path to Cast Glass

In the early days of working for Lee, I had anywhere from 5 to 10 other jobs.  Being a ski bum in Aspen does not come cheap.  I was waiting tables, babysitting, gardening, consulting at Habitat Glass Gallery, and working for Aspen Ski Company to name a few.  Until one day, Lee was fed up with watching me exhaust myself and gave me a full time position in the studio. 

This was a big change for me.  Instead of being scheduled by other people every week, I was now in charge of my own time and commitments.  The most difficult part was learning how to be disciplined about getting to work and getting my work done.  Lee always had ideas and projects happening, so there was plenty for me to do.

It was around this time we met a bronze caster who turned us on to a resin-bonded sand casting technique.  Lee was absolutely fascinated with this process.  Sand bonded with resin sets up like sandstone.  It is strong enough to hold heat, but soft enough to carve into the sand mold.  He immediately wanted to cast glass into this material.  We used the formula the bronze caster gave us.  When we cast the molten glass (2350F) onto the sand mold, the final product had black gaseous bubbles all throughout.  This did not work. So we decreased a bit of “this”, increased a bit of “that” and try, tried again until we were casting clear glass into beautifully carved sand molds. This process put us on our path to making beautiful, one of a kind, works of art.

The Muse: Joanne Lyon

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There is an honorary support member of the Spiro Lyon Glass team that needs mentioning: Joanne Lyon. She was an amazingly brilliant woman, gallery owner, art connoisseur, Lee’s wife, and my idol.

Joanne championed Lee in his new endeavor as a glass artist.  She also never thought twice of a 23-year-old woman becoming her husband’s sidekick.  Joanne was my mentor on how to be your authentic self.  She had no personal interest in the glass studio. To her, that was Lee’s realm.  While Lee was discovering glass, Joanne was creating a volunteer program for the local National Forest Service that still thrives in the Roaring Fork Valley to this day. 

I recall a time when we were working on some glass gifts for Lee and Joanne’s 50th wedding anniversary.  We were making glass hearts with guest’s initials on them.  I said to Lee unfathomably, “How can anyone be married to the same person for 50 years?”  Lee said, “We are not the same people.  I have changed, Joanne has changed, and we have always supported each other through those changes”.  Brilliant! 

The Beginning

The Master, Lee Lyon

The Master, Lee Lyon

     A few months back, my dear friend and mentor, Lee Lyon passed away at the age of 91.  I have been reflecting a great deal as of late of my time as Lee’s student, business partner, adopted daughter, drinking buddy, and much more.  It seems appropriate now to share the legacy of Spiro Lyon Glass, and fantastic story of an inspiring man and his ever-grateful protégé.

     In 1990, after retiring from his family’s hide processing business and post photography dabbling, Lee was working as a freelance Ceramicist.  He had a commission for a ceramic fountain wall.  What he wanted was a red glaze to use on the wall, but could not find a true red.  That was when he decided to enroll in a glass casting class taught by John Lewis at Pilchuck Glass School. 

     Lee imagined he would find a red glaze (glass) that he could use for his project, and that be that.  Instead, something incredible happened. Lee fell in love with molten glass.  “Bitten by the Glass Bug,” you might say.  He returned home, finished his last ceramic project and immediately turned his ceramic studio into a hot glass shop.  Trouble was, hot glass casting is not a one-man job. 

     Lee set out to find a strong young man to assist him in the studio.  He reached out to several brawny prospects that he knew, but all were busy with other things.  One prospect Lee had petitioned, Mark Haas, told Lee that he knew someone that might be available.  Enter Jacqueline Spiro, 23 years old, and as Lee would say “100 pounds soaking wet”.  Not exactly the big strong assistant Lee had in mind, but nonetheless, it was the beginning of a 25-year partnership and the birth of Spiro Lyon Glass.