Artists Rick and Tracey Bewley have followed their muse in glass that’s fused.
Step into Rick and Tracey Bewley’s ArtFusion Studio in Oklahoma City, and you’ll find a magical mix of art and light in colorful works that start with fused glass. The Bewleys have been creating their mixed media magic since they started their business in 2003. Today, their HQ and studio is at NW 11th St. and Western Avenue; they work downstairs and live upstairs in a home they renovated and finished out themselves.
While known for glass, The Bewleys are mixed-media artists that often use other materials to ground their glasswork. Their creations range from large-scale public art projects to commissioned work to smaller pieces that people can buy from them at festivals or their gallery and studio. Their recent work is a combination of fused glass techniques and other materials that represents a fusion of their talents, the couple said, including Tracey’s sense of design and Rick’s extensive experience creating with heavier materials.
Here the Bewleys talk about how they met, what they make and who they are as artists. This conversation has been edited for clarity and for space.
Q: Tell me about your business and what you do.
Rick Bewley: So we are primarily fused glass artists. Our business consists of art for the sake of art, whether for festivals, our gallery, public or commissioned work. The weirder, the better. And then we do public art; it’s fun seeing your work in public.
Tracey Bewley: Glass is our favorite medium or what we’re known for, but we frequently mix that with other materials. Steel, wood and acrylic are all other mediums we work with, as well.
Q: What is fused glass?
Tracey: Fused glass is a matter of cutting and working the glass while it’s cold, kind of like stained glass. You cut and break and lay it all on a flat pattern or design. Once the design is the way you like it, a stained glass artist would solder it together at this point with a metal framework to hold the pieces together. What we do instead is take our design and put it in a kiln and melt all those pieces together. Every piece we work with starts as a flat panel that has been melted together. Obviously, not all of our pieces are flat. That just means everything that has any shape or form to it has been in the kiln at least two times — the first time to melt the components together, and the second time we put on top of a mold and cook it again.
The different types of work we do are all at this point variations on the fused glass process. Kiln cast glass is the other type of glass work that we like to play with. Basically, the difference is that instead of just putting a couple of layers of glass in the kiln and melting it, coming back later and doing something else with it, we put a mold or dam up around it so that it’s thicker when it melts and it doesn’t spread out. It contains the shape or form that that we’re trying for. From there, we do what’s called cold-working, which is when you grind and polish or tile saw to work the glass when it isn’t hot.
We never took any classes that involve these processes. Most of this is through Rick’s knowledge and experience with working with tools and equipment —
Rick: Granite and marble and other things. It’s a great example of our complementary skills, you know, her design sense and colors. And then viability to understand that if we make it thicker, I know how to work it once we get there. And then playing off of each other.
Tracey: Right now, I’m trying to get all these pieces ready for the Oklahoma City Festival of the Arts. I’ve been making glass pieces, and he’s figuring out how to make them into a sculpture that makes it a finished piece.
Q: How did you meet?
Rick: We both worked together at MTM [custom trophy and award supplier MTM Recognition in OKC]. Tracey was head of design, and I’m vice president of research and development and have been there 33 years, 34 in June. We both had creative jobs and interacted with each other creatively.
Tracey: I worked there for 22 years ago and I retired four years ago this August. When we met, I was more of a fine artist person. I did graphic design. I had a degree from school for painting and drawing and more traditional kind of stuff. But he always made things. He’s always been hands-on — building furniture, making gifts for people, working on acrylic or wood or whatever he may get his hands on. He was always a builder.
When we met, we wanted to find a medium that we could both learn fresh and learn together, so that neither one of us had a leg up on the other one. Through work, we heard about fused glass from a man in Minnesota, so we went there to take his three-day class to learn the basics. We loved it. We also took him a new fused glass project requested by a customer of MTM. That was a weird coincidence, since we hadn’t heard of fused glass before. After our class, he told us he didn’t want to take on this difficult MTM project that involved about 150 pieces of glass.
Rick: So we did. We thought we were experts with our three-day class. That’s what started everything. We had to buy a kiln and tools and supplies. Halfway through the job, we realized we might not get done in time, so we had to ramp up production around the clock. That was the start of it. We started making stuff. We were working out of my parents’ real estate office and set up a gallery, but there were no customers.
Tracey: We had no plan for selling it. We were just stacking it up and making more.
Rick: We entered the Oklahoma City Community College arts festival. Tracey is a graduate of OCCC and a Hall of Fame member. We entered for many years.
Q: When did you buy the current building where ArtFusion studio is and that now includes the glass-blowing Blue Sage Studios?
Rick: We bought this place in 2007.
Tracey: There was no Plaza District, Midtown. This was a barren area. Lots of empty buildings around us. The bar next to us.
Rick: It’s classic, but not unique to us. Worldwide, artists need a nice big space cheap, so you have to buy in a sketchy neighborhood — and then pretty soon it’s the cool neighborhood because all the artists live there.
Q: What is your favorite part about the art you do?
Rick: One thing is that it’s unique. We like that it’s got a lot of color. We’re able to exploit all of the bright colors that that are available.
Tracey: I also really like that aspect of it that we’re still learning new techniques or new processes or trying different things. We haven’t run out yet of new ways that we can manipulate glass, and that’s been a lot of fun.
Rick: Whether people like art or not, everybody likes glass — transparency, the reflections, the color, all of that appeals to everybody,
You can see the Bewleys’ work in large public art projects that include Slam Dunk, a shadow sculpture at Red Andrews Park; Learn, Grow, Reflect sculptures at Wilson Elementary School; fused glass and steel-layered wall pieces at the Oklahoma Heart Hospital; “Leipzig” at Southern Nazarene University’s Science Building; the “In the Wind” sculpture on the corner of Main and Porter in Norman; and in a ceiling sculpture at the McClendon Whitewater Center, among other places.
Soon, you’ll also be able to see their work in the newly renovated Civic Center Music Hall as well. The City of Oklahoma City Arts Commission in April approved their proposal to create two large light sculptures (72” tall and 116” x 84” wide) that will hang from the Civic Center lobby once its Art Deco-style renovations are complete.
Also, you’ll also soon see the Bewleys’ sculpture in the Metro Park neighborhood in the median along Linwood Blvd., and 13 giant butterflies with four-foot wingspans hanging from poles in two Capitol View neighborhoods.