Tucked away on a side street a few blocks away from downtown Driggs, Idaho, sits a compactly nestled compound of structures mixing contemporary Western design, barn-like structures and unobtrusive dwellings that house visitors to Teton Valley. With two feet of snow on the ground and side street berms piling high, it’s not the easiest spot to navigate my SUV, but it’s the perfect set up for glass artists Mary Mullaney and Ralph Mossman. Each day they walk out their back door and into their converted studio to design, cut, sand and blow artisan glass.
Known collectively as Heron Glass, Mossman and Mullaney have steadily grown a thriving decorative, high-end glass business that includes local and regional clients of all walks, as well as a place in the personal collections of industry giants such as Michael Bloomberg and the Bronfman (Seagram) family.
Just as their craft and business has grown rather organically—-“flowy,” as Mullaney says—-their working and personal relationships came together via a series of serendipitous circumstances.
Mullaney, from Connecticut, and Mossman, from New Jersey, met when they were both hired as teachers by then Maine-based summer crafts camp “Horizons,” now known as “Snow Farm.” Far from being the kind of camp where lanyards are the highest art form, Horizons taught its teenage students how to build canoes, blow glass, learn photography and more. The school eventually bought a permanent farm in Williamsburg, Massachusetts and the pair worked together for two years teaching glass blowing.
…I came to glass work from a more philosophical point of view—you know, how can I make a living? – Ralph Mossman
“It’s where I was introduced to the New England craft community,” says Mullaney. “It was a great opportunity because it kind of led to my whole life—my career and my marriage. Small opportunities can really turn your career around, jobs were mostly offered to men, but I was a super-committed student. I must say, I haven’t felt handicapped in the world of glass blowing. Early in my arts career I drew and painted; I was a fine arts major. But I noticed that people in the glass shop were actually selling their work, so I started getting more interested in the glass! Glass blowing is just really fun. It’s hard, but it’s also fascinating and it’s fun to work with others.”
She and Mossman meshed as co-workers.
“During that first year we both had partners,” recalls Mossman. “But we both went home from that summer and ended up single. We corresponded during the year, and I began to think there might be something there. We did work well together. Mary was very good, a hard worker. She didn’t take much advice from me…it was one of the students who pointed out to me that Mary was pretty!”
Mossman had been going to engineering school, but it didn’t feel quite right.
“I took a little time off and ended up in California in this community of people doing craft. And the culture, I liked it. I liked rural lifestyles, and this was in the mid-70s, and I didn’t know how anyone who wasn’t a farmer could live rurally. Then I saw all these people making things, and I ended up working for a woodworker. A big “back to the land” movement was going on. These people were relocated from San Francisco, they were urban people like me trying to figure out how to live in the country. So I came to glass work from a more philosophical point of view—-you know, how can I make a living?”
Mossman applied to the craft school in Maine, and after an auspicious start he was told that if he was going to get into glass blowing, he’d have to be committed, have to devote his life to the craft. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t make it.
“And I said, ‘Okay.’ And yes, you need a whole facility to blow glass. It’s not something you can do as a hobby. He was right, I took his advice. I moved to Jackson because there was a glass community, and my brother was a ski instructor.”
Mullaney joined him, and after a stint living in a then infamous “ski bum house,” they began searching for studio space. Jackson had already become too expensive, and the pair eventually built their shop in Jackson baritone Rich Viola’s house, on, of all places, “Easy Street” in Driggs. A few years later, they bought their current property.
Mullaney was in her early 20’s.
When you have a glass shop, you have to pay for it, so they blew glass that would sell. Religiously attending American Craft Council shows on the east coast, Mossman and Mullaney took orders from galleries to fill throughout the year for 20 years. Ornaments, functional items such as perfume bottles and other items were popular, and they continue to make those pieces today, including an extensive line of chevron beads.
“We started with ornaments, that’s all we did for about a year. Then it was suggested by a store in Jackson that we make our ornaments encased in thick glass —- so we started making ‘thicker’ things and moved into other designs. We learned how to do Italian cane work, made bowls and candlesticks, and we would design new items if we wanted to learn a special technique,” says Mossman.
After 911 the big craft shows changed drastically and buyers disappeared, say the pair. Many galleries closed up in the northeast and people who worked in them left. The shows became less of a sure thing.
Mullaney began wanting to try to establish her own style, and “not always be working three feet away from Ralph.” She hadn’t drawn for many years, and it was during this time that her signature sandblasted botanical bowls began to take shape. She showed in Jackson at the former Muse Gallery, pairing up with local arts luminaries like Tina Close. Gradually she moved more and more into sculptural glass shapes.
Mullaney says that her contemporary cameo vessels depict “microcosms of captivating natural beauty and unusual landscapes of the mind.” She creates infinite hues and textures by carving into fragile, fine layers of colored glass. The outcome and effect are luminous, softly curving illustrated vessels that indulge her love of glass work as well as her passion for drawing.
Mossman followed his muse, too. These days he designs custom lighting, and he’s refining his technique for creating what he calls his “digital” vases. Currently on display at the Driggs Geotourism Center, the pieces are capable of reflecting brilliant, colorful light, becoming transparent; and when placed in a different location than direct sunlight, the vessel’s colors blossom.
Mossman explains that his craftsmanship is essentially Italian cane work. His illustrated vessels are diptychs: one side of a vase depicts the view of the inside of a room; the reverse side is that view—an urban scene with buildings lining the street. Another vessel illustrates a room on one side, and a reverse side showing trees and a swing.
I’d love to do shows again, but it’s hard for us to hold onto pieces now, they go out the door very quickly.” – Mary Mullaney
“They’re built of very simple individual colors getting stretched out into glass threads; then those threads get bundled, and the bundles pulled out and cut into sections. I make these little tiles, and from these small tiles I build mosaics, and heat them up and fuse them together,” says Mossman.
The pair remains involved with local and regional causes, donating their glass works to organizations like the Teton Regional Land Trust. Doing so supports community needs while also introducing them to new collectors. But their days of traveling long distances to big craft shows may well be behind them.
“We’re not doing as many shows now because we just love to be in the mountains, summer is so fleeting and precious here, we don’t want to be away from it. We’re better off in our studio,” says Mullaney. “Opportunities just seem to come in randomly, and we’ve been surviving on our own from connections we’ve long had, word of mouth and through galleries we already do business with. I’d love to do shows again, but it’s hard for us to hold onto pieces now, they go out the door very quickly.”
“There’s an interesting phenomenon that occurs,” Mossman adds. “Right now our furnace is off, and we’re taking a break. It always seems like, when we decide to turn it on, all of a sudden people start contacting us. It’s crazy!”
To learn more about Heron Glass, visit their website here. In Driggs, their work is available at Guchiebirds . In Texas, they are represented by Kittrell/Riffkind. Read more about Mullaney’s botanical vessels at www.marymullaney.com