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Jes Durfee, Duluth's glass blower extraordinaire

Hungry customers start to file into Burrito Union around dinner time. A man with a long black beard and dreadlocks sits at a table in the corner and sips a glass of root beer.

Hungry customers start to file into Burrito Union around dinner time. A man with a long black beard and dreadlocks sits at a table in the corner and sips a glass of root beer.

Nobody knows it, but he has a connection to this restaurant, and especially to the bar. He created the colorful glass tap handles for Burrito Union.

Jes Durfee, 32, is a glass artist in Duluth. He has been a glass blower for about seven years; he is rightfully proud of his tap handles.

"I wasn't sure how to go about it at first," Durfee said. "But I kept studying and learned a way to make them, and they turned out beautiful."

Tim Nelson is the owner of Burrito Union. He had been familiar with Durfee's work for several years and wanted some of his glass art in the restaurant.

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"When we were designing this place, we thought it would be cool to have some tap handles that look like the tops of Russian towers," Nelson said. "Constantly people are asking about them. They think they're just amazing."

Durfee has lived in Duluth since he was a boy. He has always had a passion for art, but he wasn't always set on art as a career. He attended the University of Minnesota Duluth, where he majored in environmental studies and Native American studies.

"I didn't know I'd be an artist, and I didn't have a plan," Durfee said.

He decided that his time in college could be used to travel the world and visit his roots. It was that experience that would eventually become inspiration for his art.

"I felt like I saw the world in different way," Durfee said. "I don't know how you can scientifically measure the influence that going somewhere has, but it's a magical experience."

Durfee read books about master glass blowers in Moreno, Italy, not far from where he was studying in Venice. That sparked an interest for him to learn more about the craft.

"Instead of just reading about them, I decided to go and see them," Durfee said.

Visiting the glass blowers of Moreno is what jump-started Durfee's career as an artist.

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"Every time I would see someone making glass, it was just the coolest thing to me," Durfee said. "The master glass blowers let me watch and I asked them questions. I absorbed enough knowledge to start blowing glass myself."

Upon his return home from Europe, Durfee started to make his own glass art.

"I try to take everything that I've learned from everybody and use that knowledge as a foundation to make my own unique sculptures," Durfee said.

He still travels around the world to learn from new artists and new cultures. He has seen glass blowers in Italy, Jamaica, Australia, Estonia and Japan, to name a few. He said that he tries to take something from every place he visits, and uses it as inspiration for his own artwork.

"I try to stay with the traditional people of the land and learn about what's going on in the culture," Durfee said. "I like to be immersed in the different cultures of the world and that has influence on my glass."

Durfee calls the glass blowers he has met throughout the world his teachers, and he uses what they've taught him as motivation.

"Hopefully they can be 1 percent as proud of me as I've been to work with them," he said.

Durfee is growing as an artist and improves his own work by practice.

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He said that every year he learns new things about his art and is able to use what he's learned to try new creations.

"You can make anything out of glass," he said. "That's my favorite part about it. It's so open and free."

He also teaches others what he's learned.

He does art demonstrations around the area and he hopes to inspire other artists in Duluth, just as he was inspired by his teachers. One of the most important lessons that Durfee teaches is to love what you do.

"Everything I make comes from the heart," he said.

NEWS TO USE
Jes Durfee will be giving a free demonstration on how to make glass beads from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, March 8, at Peachies Stained Glass. Peachies is located at 5904 Tower Ave. in Superior. For details, call (715) 392-6009 or visit www.peachiesstainedglass.com .

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