WRITER | CANDIE CONAT
PHOTOS | JORDAN VALLEY GLASS WORKS
Jay Bavers’ grandfather was an experienced glass blower from Russia who immigrated to Brooklyn, New York, in 1911. At the young age of five, Bavers watched in fascination as his grandfather would take molten glass and form it into the most amazing creations. As he grew older, Bavers soaked up everything he could, learning his grandfather’s techniques, and eventually applying them to his own artwork.
As a teenager, Bavers had the joy of vacationing near East Jordan. He treasured his time there and used to tell his grandfather that when he opened his own glassblowing studio, it would be somewhere in the country, with woods near the lakes and rivers. When the time came, he knew East Jordan was the place he wanted to be. He likes to tell people, “I wasn’t born here, but as soon as I came to my senses, I moved here.”
When Bavers first started Jordan Valley Glassworks, he sold strictly wholesale. But when Bavers and his partner, Glenna Haney, decided to move to a larger space, they realized it was the perfect time to create retail space as well and invite the public to experience how they create their artistic pieces. He says it has been the best decision they ever made. “Having the public visit us year after year, coming back for a special gift for a loved one or just stopping in to say hello, has been really special over the last 40-plus years.”
Jordan Valley Glassworks creates some of the most amazing pieces of glass artwork you will find anywhere in the world, from shimmering paperweights, adorable critters, functional glassware, and “roasted” pumpkins to 450-pound sparkling chandeliers.
Bavers enjoys creating each piece, but he especially appreciates the pieces that require the whole team. Each person must work in sync with the others, anticipating the next move, working in the necessary location to accommodate the piece. The team meets several times to plan, both talking and then writing it out, sometimes even completing dry-runs, all choreographed by Haney. Once everyone is confident that they know their role, the project can begin. They derive great satisfaction from having a grueling project finish well. Nothing broken, everyone working as a team, and ending with a stunning work of art.
A few years ago, a local veterinary technician had a special request. She wanted a keepsake that contained the ashes of her beloved pet. They decided on a paperweight, and the result was a touching memento she could treasure forever. The idea caught on quickly, and now Jordan Valley Glassworks creates hundreds of these memorial paperweights every year.
Bavers and Haney travel all over the country, including Hawaii, to complete installations of their wall sculptures and custom lighting. This travel takes a lot of planning, often a year or more in advance, and may take more than one trip. Trips usually occur in winter, when the number of visitors to the shop is much lower and a little extra sunshine is a welcome change.
Over 20 years ago, Bavers created the Niijima Project, named for the glass floats originally created in the town of Niijima, Japan, for use on fishing nets. Jordan Valley Glassworks creates over 150 of the glass floats every year, each float engraved with the name of a military person from Michigan who has died in service to our country. The floats are released into the Jordan River, Lake Charlevoix, and Lake Michigan, with permission from the DNR. The duo asks that, if you are lucky enough to find a float, you take a moment to recognize the military person memorialized on it. Finders will frequently contact them to say where a float was found. Finders often seek out the family of the listed service member as well and gift the float to them in honor of their service.
Baver loves meeting new people and sharing his love of glassblowing through workshops that are open to the public. Check the website for more details.
Jordan Valley Glassworks
209 State Street, East Jordan MI 49727
(231) 536-0539 l JordanValleyGlassWorks.com