Crete man is a glass act
BY GINGER BRASHINGER Correspondent July 3, 2012 3:40PM
Charles Lotton, 77, works on a glass lamp shade with assistant George Pineda at Lotton Art Glass Gallery & Studios in Crete, Ill., on Friday June 29, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media .
Updated: August 6, 2012 11:33AM
Charles Lotton is a world renowned glass artist, but he considers himself part of a team.
Working in his Crete studio for the better part of two hours on a recent hot Saturday morning,
Lotton, 77, quickly swung 7 pounds of molten glass, suspended at the end of a long steel pipe, back and forth between a 2,000-degree furnace and a metal workbench a few feet away.
Never misjudging his space despite the urgency created by time and temperature, his precise and fluid movements were in harmony with those of his assistants.
Jacqueline Renier, an artist in her own right, and George Pineda, responsible for all the metalwork and lamp assembly at the studio, hovered over the evolving artwork, moving deftly while taking direction from Lotton, the obvious captain of the “team.”
Together, the trio completed Lotton’s artistic vision of light and color from the unlikely sources of fire, steel and sand.
“The people who help you with it are just as important as you. I depend on Jacque and George and Tony,” Lotton said, including assistant Tony Navarrete, who had taken the day off to get married.
Generous of spirit and secure in his artistic gifts, Lotton also credited his family team with his success as he talked about his studio being honored this month and next.
An exhibition at The Museum of American Glass in West Virginia entitled “The Lotton Legacy, Three Generations of American Glass,” will feature Lotton’s work and that of his sons and grandsons.
“They’re giving honor to my whole family because my whole family is involved in this,” Lotton said.
Lotton said his wife, Mary, has always been his business partner, supporting him and his work over the years. His sons, Daniel, David and John, and some of his grandsons also became glass artists.
Lotton said he also was “very humbled” recently by being awarded an honorary doctorate from Governors State University.
“I wasn’t expecting it; I didn’t believe it, but nevertheless, they did it,” Lotton said.
The Lotton legacy began in 1970 when Lotton gave up his Dolton beauty salon to work as a self-taught glass artist in a backyard studio he built himself.
“It’s unheard of, never having a lesson,” Renier said. “We call it divine intervention.”
Lotton’s love of carnival glass and his salon clientele’s affinity for bringing him pieces to add to his collection led to the discovery of a different style of glass art that became his inspiration.
“As a collector, I decided right then and there that I wanted the finer stuff,” Lotton said. “Then I thought, ‘I can make this.’ ”
Through his family’s support and his own research, experimentation and determination, Lotton used his gifts to create thousands of pieces of artwork in several home studios from Dolton to Lansing to Crete.
Teamwork notwithstanding, Lotton has earned his accolades on his own artistic merits, and they promise to remain long after he is gone.
Daryle Lambert, antiques and collectibles expert, said he believes Lotton’s work “will one day surpass Tiffany in value.”
Renier agreed that Lotton’s work is special.
“We kind of feel we’re living history with Charlie,” she said.
Lotton could rest on his laurels, but the creative force within him is too strong.
“I love to do it,” Lotton said. “That’s priority one. I don’t think the Lord meant for me to retire and be a couch potato. It’s the passion that motivates me.”
Sitting among hundreds of his pieces in the retail shop next to the double studio he shares with his son, Daniel, Lotton said he doesn’t see an end to his artistic vision.
“There’s always something coming up,” Lotton said. “You may come up with a product you never dreamed of.”
A smile and a sigh indicated Lotton almost seems surprised by his gifts.
“You know,” he said, “it comes out more beautiful than your mind can stretch.”