photography: Kirsten Shultz
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Craftsman Profiles: Sun Valley is not commonly known for its down-to-earth quality. No surprise given its outward appearance, yet, actually, it is down-to-earth. Very hands-on. The thing is, these hands are the quiet ones, usually not the ones with standing appointments for manicures. Meet the hands (and their owners) that garner calluses and broken nails to create the fine touches in our environments. Then, take a closer look at the person next to you at the market. Say hello to a master.
A designer in glass, Bordeleau has made a 30-year career of showing people that he can do what they think can’t be done. He has developed a laminated glass countertop that looks like transparent stone. The shimmery, opaque surfaces of his cabinet doors created from laminated, fused, and slumped (molded) glass, sometimes etched with sayings from family members about food, would appear at ease on a dais in a museum. And even when using centuries-old techniques, such as classic leading for a window fashioned with handblown European glass, Bordeleau develops untraditional designs, achieving a freedom of line uncommon in the medium through the use of innovative methods to support the panes.
Although he’s scheduled several months ahead with commissions from across the country, Bordeleau finds the most pleasure in creating for local clients. He recently designed a panel for a friend’s front door by laminating handblown antique glass to dichroic glass, a product of the space-age with a metallic coating that transmits two colors and reflects a third. The finished piece flashes with tiny, brilliant accents that suggest prayer flags
waving in the wind.
All of Bordeleau’s work—from The River Sculpture on the façade of Boise’s Grove Hotel to an assortment of customized walls, sculptures, windows, and doors—emerges from a south Ketchum studio/home consisting of three ragtag structures (they could more tactfully be called “unassuming,” but Bordeleau doesn’t countenance such political correctness). Inside lurk three kilns, some large-scale glass-beveling equipment, multiple worktables, four computers, “a gazillion” hand tools, and crates and crates of handpicked glass. “Instead of buying furniture,” he laughs, “I buy glass.”
Bordeleau modestly describes himself as “a ski bum who makes glass when off the hill.” But the interior of his studio tells a different story, regardless of the 116 days he spent on Baldy last winter. Drawings, tools, molds, CDs, books, odd glass pieces, drawings and more drawings collage the drywall from floor to ceiling in what is clearly the domain of a glass bum. This artist has been wildly prolific ever since graduating in 1972 from the California College of Arts and Crafts, where he focused on technical disciplines: printmaking, photography—and glassblowing, at a time when only a handful of brave souls were attempting glass as an art form.
A native of Great Falls, Montana, where his father practiced architecture, Bordeleau had passed through Ketchum many times on his way to and from school. He moved here after graduation and immediately started taking commissions—promising results that he had neither the equipment nor the experience to produce. But produce them he did, building a kiln and developing proprietary techniques to get the job done.
Bordeleau’s work has evolved dramatically over the years, and with each new project. He enjoys merging the geometric lines of Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style with the organic fluidity of art nouveau. To this process he brings virtuoso technical skill, an imagination that races from point to point with the improbable adroitness of a movie hero leaping from car to car on a speeding train, and “ample amounts of enthusiasm.” (His enthusiasm hasn’t dampened since, as a 13-year-old, he took ten dollars out of his savings account to buy a propane torch. He learned very quickly that molten glass was a lot of fun to manipulate. He'd come a long way since he learned by mistake at the age of five that the curtains in the family room were flammable.)
In a recent installation, a wall composed of individual glass doors depicted a timeline of art in famous faces, including the Mona Lisa and a Van Gogh self-portrait. Each large tile had been painted with a thin layer of enamel and fired at over 1,000 degrees, altering the appearance of the enamel, and then painted and fired again—as many as 30 times to develop the final imagery.
“Mona Lisa terrified me,” admits Bordeleau. “Van Gogh terrified me.” But he says this in much the same way a child would claim to be afraid of the rollercoaster, and then beg to go again and again.
He has, however, learned to stay away from the curtains. >>>