Keeping his marbles

Rolf Wald is famous for his marbles. He once wrote, "To own a marble is to have a ball!"

Not to be confused with the bags of marbles that little children play with in the schoolyard, Wald crafts each gleaming orb in his secluded Agnew studio. They sell among collectors for $10 and up.

As an artist who likes to be in control of the process from start to finish, Wald starts with sand, melted at 2,450 degrees Fahrenheit in an oven and gathered to form into glass rods.

Because the oven must run full time and uses hundreds of dollars worth of propane, he usually spends about two months a year on this part of the process, then turns the oven off while working on individual glass objects.

Minerals are added to the sand to make different colors of glass.

Wald's studio is filled with colorful bits of glass, large and small. Curving rods of color cover a workbench, and broken pieces of glass from a vessel that took many hours to make line a windowsill.

To make an object, a piece of a glass rod is heated on the end of a punty - a long metal rod - in the "glory hole," the smaller, 2,000-degree oven.

As the glass softens, Wald turns the rod continuously to keep the melting glass from dripping off the punty. Every few minutes, he pulls the glass from the oven to a workbench where he shapes it with a variety of tools.

"I love manipulating the glass," Wald said.

"Poking, cutting, making unusual things. It's simple, but it takes skill, like calligraphy."

The finished object goes into a cooling oven, heated to only 900 degrees and calibrated to drop the temperature slowly. The finished piece is signed with a diamond scribe.

Colored glass is layered and twisted in many combinations to create the effects seen in art glass pieces such as vases, vessels, figurines and marbles. Examples of these objects are displayed at the Blue Whole Gallery, where Wald is the three-dimensional artist of the month for August. A recent series of whimsical bridges, representing transitions in life, fills one front window at the gallery.

Wald and his wife, Genie, work together in glassmaking, as they have for more than 30 years. Both earned Master of Fine Arts degrees in California. Wald also has a bachelor's degree in business administration and said, "I know enough to know what I'm doing wrong."

The Walds' success in glass art came early. As graduate students, they participated in a student art show and sold two pieces. As their reputation grew, their work was carried in galleries in Boston, Beverly Hills, San Francisco and Manhattan.

Wald created a series of glass tops - like the child's toy that spins on the floor - that became popular. In the marble world, he became known for his beach ball design made in bright, opaque colors.

"We used to do a marble show about once a month," Wald said.

"We did the inaugural marble show at Wheaton Village in Millville, N.J." Wheaton Village (now WheatonArts) was established in the 1970s to highlight American glass, much of it made in New Jersey. Artists' studios, a folk life center and a glass artists' training center all are parts of the complex. One of Wald's creations is displayed in the Museum of American Glass there.

Wald views his work in terms of icons, symbols and metaphors. In an essay he wrote for an art glass book that features his work, Wald calls the earth a symbol of immortality, a shape with "no beginning or end."

Thousands of hobbyists make marbles, Wald said. While craftsmen compete in the marketplace, he said, "An artist competes with himself."

The Walds moved to

Sequim in 1997 after building their house and shop on property they purchased some years earlier. They seldom participate in shows anymore but still produce a steady supply of marbles and other glass objects.

Rolf moves about the studio, relaxed and comfortable, always seeking new ways to draw beauty and meaning out of melted sand.

Reach Sandra Frykholm at sfrykholm@sequim

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