Color in Cosmopolis

To Johnny Camp of Opal Art Glass in Cosmopolis, the business is a science, but to the uninformed spectator, it’s magic.

Story by Corey Morris | Photos by Aaron Lavinsky | Published: May 5, 2015

A glob of orange on the end of a metal rod is pushed into a furnace that blows heat into the room. The glob is removed and taken to a work bench where it’s spun and treated with air. It expands, taking on a balloon shape, and then it’s reintroduced to the furnace, brought out and blasted with air once again. The center caves into a wide dimple, creating a bowl or dish.

Johnny Camp works more molten glass in the furnace with another rod and dribbles it onto the outside of the bowl like an ice cream topping. He plops a pile of molten glass on a second work bench and sets the bottom of the bowl on it, creating a base. It’s one of his many creations, and each of his creations is different. Whether the pieces Camp creates are shaped like a bowl, an octopus, a pine tree or an ornament doesn’t matter, they’re unique.

Originally from Onalaska, Camp took his first job working with glass at Mount St. Helens Glass while attending Centralia Community College. “They were listening to rock and roll and playing with fire, and it seemed like a great place to be,” Camp said.

A job offer for another glass company took Camp to Benicia, Calif. Some years and two jobs later, artist Michael Nourot (who has made pieces for popes and presidents) brought Camp on at Nourot Glass in Benicia, Calif., and that’s where Camp learned the gritty details of the industry. “I learned a lot of techniques — how colors work with glass and how to make your own glass,” Camp said.

Working together, Darlene Camp, dusts metals onto molten glass as her husband turns another work­in­progress beneath the falling powder. They’re working a silver powder into the glass. When the piece is finished, the silver will tint the glass gold. Science or magic, depending on who you ask.

Following his time at Nourot glass, Camp opened his own studio in California, and in 2005 brought the operation home to Washington. Classic rock and Johnny Cash play over a stereo near the door leading into their retail operation.

In addition to retail, Opal Art Glass is a fixture at wholesale shows and the Camps offer one­on­one classes to the public for $145 per class. The Camps give to the community as much as they can, donating 60-­70 pieces to charity each year. They’re at home in Washington, and they feel welcome. “The locals have been good to us,” Johnny Camp said.