When Willo Sernovitz was 12 years old, he was in his backyard shooting off fireworks and one of the bottle rockets errantly flew into an open window and burned his family’s house to the ground. A tragic accident to be sure, but from that point on, fire has had a significant impact on Willo’s life and art.
“Subconsciously, my draw to glass blowing is a part of that,” Willo says. “It’s like me trying control this uncontrollable thing — fire took everything and now fire gives back to my life every day,”
You could say that Willo and fire have worked things out. The flame is now his friend.
Willo and wife Ember have been working with glass since 1994 and are master glassblowers in traditional furnace glassblowing as well as flameworked borosilicate glass. Their goal is to build a strong glass community in northern California and a resource center for continuing glass art education and insight.
Willo, who found early inspiration from glass legend Bob Snodgrass, is the founder of Liquid Light Studio, a groundbreaking glass collective that planted the seeds of Humboldt County Glass culture back in the late nineties. The newest incarnation is SoulShine Arts, Humboldt County’s only public glassblowing school and studio.
Along with functional glass (aka pipes), Willo and Ember specialize in custom glass lamp shades and lighting fixtures, marbles, sculpture, and wearable art. “There’s nothing we can’t do with glass,” Willo says. “I could wake up at three in the morning with the craziest idea and go straight to the studio and start working it out.”
With reverence traditional pipe making techniques and an eye towards the future, Willo has become known as the “hammer, Sherlock, sidecar guy.” His passion for light and color is expressed through his creative style and use of multi-color blending to give each piece a dimensional lifelike effect all its own.
“I dream about the colors, shapes, lines and mathematical aspects of a design,” Willo says. “I’m super obsessed with number sequences and patterns, and I go kind of Rain Man about the concept of the Fibonacci spiral, and how I can express that in different forms.”
Willo’s work is in such high demand, that nearly everything that comes from his torch is a custom order. That doesn’t mean his heady pieces don’t find their way into smoke shop galleries. He and Ember also host weekly livestreams direct from their studio where glass enthusiasts from around the globe tune in to watch, learn and admire.
“I love that functional art is finally perceived as art. I remember early on going to the Glass Art Society Conventions and being told that pipe makers didn’t belong there,” Willo says. “Now, art can be whatever it is — sometimes it’s you wear it, sometimes you live in it, sometimes it’s a pipe. It’s great to be part of an industry where we can celebrate that and get paid for it.”
“Glass is my religion,” he continues. “When I sit at the torch or stand at the glory hole, and I’m feeling the glass move in my hands, whether it’s with wet newspaper in the hot shop, a tool on the torch, or just stretching it between two access points, it’s like I’m talking to God — everything becomes as one and I’m totally transmogged into a whole other state.”