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Red Oak Glass pursues nonprofit status

Red Oak Glass in Central Point now bears two identities. The first is the company that creates colorful and unique light fixtures and vessels and ships them worldwide. The second is the nonprofit organization, Reds Oak Center for Creative Expression, which furthers glasswork, art mentoring and art services in Southern Oregon.

Inside the shop, located 234 N. Front St., visitors are invited to watch the evolution of molten glass into a vessel or lamp. A gaffer, or glass blower, dips a steel blow pipe into a 2,000-degree furnace where more than 160 pounds of molten glass is waiting to be fashioned.

"The tank holds 165 pounds of molten possibilities," said the owner, Louis Colosimo.

The molten glass, a honey-like substance, is then reheated and cooled while adding colors, blown into the desired shape and put in a 975-degree oven, called the annealer, for four hours to stabilize the heat and slowly cool the piece.

No two vases or lamps created through the process are the same. Each has its own character and color, Colosimo said.

"It's dangerous; it's hot; it's sharp; it's beautiful — it's kind of like a woman," he said.

Curtis Vanevooren, Red Oak Glass' office manager, said the lights and chandeliers are the company's bread and butter.

Lamps by Red Oak Glass can be seen locally at Nimbus, Kaleidoscope Pizzeria and Pub, Creekside Pizza, as well as at doctor's offices and residences.

For about four years, students from Crater High School's Renaissance Academy have pursued glassblowing as a way to fulfill either their work experience credit or senior project requirements. Each year, four to six students would work and learn at the shop for school credit, but the program was a casualty of reduced school funding. There was no longer any support at the school level for the students in the program, and the students were on their own, Vanevooren said.

"We decided this is a good program," he said. "The demand is there, and we need to find a way to do this in a more sustainable fashion."

In August, Red Oak Glass began operating as a nonprofit under the umbrella of Inquiring Systems, Inc., a California-based incubator for organizations pursuing nonprofit status.

"We're kind of in school," Vanevooren said. "We can do everything that a nonprofit does, but ISI is there as a support system."

The Red Oak Center for Creative Expression will continue pursuing independent, nonprofit status while learning to operate under ISI. As a nonprofit, Red Oak Glass would be able to incorporate community art education more effectively, Vanevooren said.

"Now that the business can take care of itself we can grow services, get more space and instructors," he said.

In January, the Center for Creative Expression will partner with the Rogue Gallery & Art Center's teen mentoring program. The gaffers at Red Oak glass will mentor students for three months. The students' work will then be displayed at the gallery in April.

"This allows students to go through the whole process," Vanevooren said. "They're going to design a piece, create a piece and display a piece."

"We're not so much about the end piece. It's not as important as the process."

In the future, the center also would like to bring in instructors for two-dimensional media such as painting and drawing, as well as music and dance.

"The whole mission is, I want to have a drop-in art center," Colosimo said.

"I really believe that people have the need to be creative, and everybody has a creative urge and impulse and they need a place to enforce that and be encouraged."

For more information on the teen mentoring program, call 772-8118, and for more information on volunteering, call 665-0423. Red Oak Center for Creative Expression is developing its own Web site at www.redoakenterfor-creativeexpression.org.

Nick Neely creates his first glass flower while receiving a lesson at Glass Works in Central Point Tuesday. - Jamie Lusch