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Local artist plans to open his own storefront

Dan Neff, torch work glass artist and owner of N?f Glass in Duluth, lives in the Congdon neighborhood and often walks his dog, Kush, along Tischer Creek after long days of creating beautiful collectible marbles, pendants, wine bottle stoppers, pa...

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Dan Neff

Dan Neff, torch work glass artist and owner of Näf Glass in Duluth, lives in the Congdon neighborhood and often walks his dog, Kush, along Tischer Creek after long days of creating beautiful collectible marbles, pendants, wine bottle stoppers, paperweights and sculptural pieces.

Neff was born and raised in Northeastern Minnesota and got interested in torch working glass in the spring of 2003 after taking a community education class.

Once he tried it, he was hooked.

Neff then decided to begin a three-year apprenticeship program to learn the basics of the craft. In the spring of 2006, he started Näf Glass and began to demonstrate his work at festivals and fine art shows.

"In 2008, after finishing my undergraduate studies at UMD, I started traveling around the country to show my work and to learn from world-renowned glass artists," Neff said. "Since then, I have shown my work in over 100 exhibitions around the country."

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The rigors of making glass art through torch work require practice, practice and more practice. Because artists spend much time working in the studio, they are often asked to share their "secret" of how they do what they do.

"There's no substitute for experience," Neff said. "You just have to do it and do it and do it."

Neff credits growing up with his family's work ethic as a value that underlies his motivation to work long hours to perfect his technique.

"You were always expected to do your very best," said Neff, in reference to his youth.

Perfecting his technique is Dan's current challenge as he is creating a series of contemporary marbles that is unique to a specific year. Egyptian feathering was the pattern in 2010, and pinwheel designs are featured this year.

"What's most rewarding for me as an artist is that people are often excited about a piece before they're told it's one of my signature series," Neff said. "It's very gratifying to see customers respond to my work and get excited about some ofmy personal favorites."

Neff spent time this year learning Venetian glassblowing techniques in order to add variety to the torch work glass art he creates and to work on his personal goals as an artist.

He is now adding wine goblets to the rest of his product line, which already includes pendants, marbles, wine bottle stoppers, bird sculptures, paperweights, earrings, glass beads and Christmas ornaments. This keeps the creative energy flowing.

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Neff was recently selected as a winner of the Great Space Giveaway in downtown Duluth. The contest asked entrepreneurs to submit their business plans to win one year of free rent, among other perks, in a Superior Street storefront.

Neff's new storefront, Lake Superior Art is located at 202 East Superior Street and will be the premiere torch work glass studio in Minnesota. He plans to open the studio in early December 2011.

The store will feature free demonstrations in the front window, a glass art gallery representing regional glass artists, a studio for classes, workspace for rent and an area to purchase glass art supplies.

"Lake Superior Art Glass is a facility that will open people's eyes to the world of glass art and raise knowledge and appreciation of why glass is a fine art," Neff said.

The new storefront will also attract glass artists to Duluth by hosting world-renowned torch work glass artists who will teach classes at the store.

"It is important for people to learn from professionals, not only to learn the safety issues involved in this medium, but also to learn the correct way to execute techniques," Neff said.

For this reason, Neff hopes to teach people about the art of torch work.

"I want to inspire people to learn about glass, whether it is about how to make it or how to appreciate it," Neff said. "Learning in our studio will give people an opportunity to use our equipment as they start out while receiving professional instruction."

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Larry Squillace and his wife of Virginia, Minn. have taken torch work classes with Neff and knew him while he was growing up in Virginia.

"He's a wonderful teacher, extremely knowledgeable," Squillace said.

Owning his own business takes time away from Neff's passion, which is hands-on time creating torch work art glass pieces.

"Sales dictates some of my priorities," Neff said. "I try to predict what inventory I'll need for each show."

And in the end, Neff simply aims to better himself as an artist.

"Being as good as I possibly can be has been my overall goal ever since I started making glass," Neff said. "The end goal for me is to be a successful, nationally known glass artist and to share this passion with others."

In a give-and-take relationship between the business of art and learning from renowned glass artists and glassblowing, Dan

is always working on a project.

Contact Dan to view or purchase glass art, inquire about Lake Superior Art Glass, register for a class, or inquire about studio rental at www.nafglass.com or e-mail him at nafglass@gmail.com .

Joyce Yamamoto is an artist and mentor to artists participating in CREATE, a three-year program sponsored by the Duluth Entrepreneur Fund. The program coaches artists as they turn their

passions into sustainable

businesses. Yamamoto, who lives in Little Marais, is

writing a series of articles about the artists to let their neighbors know that working artists live in Duluth's neighborhoods, and to give our readers a glimpse into their personalities.

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"Lake Superior Geode" - borosilicate, torch-worked glass, cut and polished. (Photo by Kristen Pless)

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