If the weather is nice, and you know where Jim and Sandy Pezzillo live, you might think about cruising past their house one of these days. If you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of a glassblower at work in the driveway.
The artisan in question would be Jim and Sandy’s son Jarryd, founder of Pezz Glassworks, who has been turning molten glass into pieces of art — with the aid of a fiery furnace he built himself — since he started his new venture at the end of the summer.
Pezzillo is just one of the hundreds of artists and craftspeople in the area who spend their days making unique and beautiful objects by hand. And whether they are decorative, functional or both, objects like these can make for memorable gifts, perhaps never more than in 2020, a year turned upside down by the global coronavirus pandemic (among many other things).
In a time when shoppers carry instant purchasing devices in their pockets and porches fill up with boxes of stuff day after day, artists and artisans like Pezzillo give gift givers opportunities to do something a little different — and stimulate the local economy at the same time.
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Pezzillo went to Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Arts because he wanted to study woodworking. There was just one problem with his plan: RIT did not accept him into its woodworking program.
The school did admit him into its glass program, even though his portfolio contained no glass. So he decided to go. “The plan was that I was going to be a glass major for one year, and then transfer over to wood,” Pezzillo says. “But then I did glass for one year, fell in love with it and decided to stick with it.”
Pezzillo backpacked across Europe for a while after graduating from RIT. After returning home to New Jersey, he moved down to Millville and joined the residential program at the Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center, home to the Museum of American Glass. It was there that he assembled his furnace out of material he found in the center’s scrapyard.
“The old boss was a hoarder so they had so much material for building furnaces and other glass equipment,” says Pezzillo, who is now 24. “The new boss was trying to get rid of it all, so they donated what I needed to me to build my furnace.”
He spent about a year in Millville honing his craft before moving back to Hopewell last winter. Since glassblowing is outdoor work, and winter is not a good time to work with glass, he took on odd jobs, delivering pizzas, landscaping and even doing some telephone pole restoration work.
Pezzillo spent some time this summer in Kansas City working at Monarch Glass Studio with renowned glass artist Tyler Kimball before returning home to start up Pezz Glassworks. He got a permit to set up his mobile furnace in his parents’ driveway and started out making glass pumpkins with the idea of selling them at craft fairs.
One of the first fairs that he did — and there have not been many fairs this year because of the pandemic — was at the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, where he will return on Dec. 12 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for a glassblowing demonstration. The event will be a fundraiser for the Sanctuary. For more information, go to 1867sanctuary.org.
“I love making pumpkins,” he says. “A lot of glassblowers hate it because you’re just making them to make money. But I still love it because you get into the flow and you can start cranking them out. I’ve been blowing glass for a while, but I hadn’t been making stuff to sell because in art school, it was always just, ‘make weird funky art stuff.’ Now I’m trying to figure out what stuff I can do for production.”
After Halloween, Pezzillo stopped making pumpkins and started making winter-themed items like snowmen, icicles, and ornaments. “With pumpkins it doesn’t really matter if they’re off center. But ornaments have be perfectly round spheres which is quite the change of pace, and enjoyable, because I feel like I’m using my skills,” he says.
Pezzillo’s routine involves getting up around 6 a.m. to light the furnace, which needs four hours to get up to the temperature needed to keep the glass in molten form until he is ready to work with it. If the forecast is for rain or extreme cold, he doesn’t start the furnace, because he can’t work in those conditions.
Around 10 or 11 he starts working, and he isn’t done until all the glass in the furnace is gone. “If you shut it off with glass still in there, it can cause parts of the furnace to start breaking,” he says.
When he is at work in the driveway, he sometimes attracts curious neighbors, and that curiosity sometimes has even led a few times to sales. (While Pezzillo does not have a permit to sell items from the driveway, he can take orders via phone or Facebook message, which can be delivered or mailed at a later time.) Items range in price from $15 to $55, with most things selling for $25 to $35.
Pezzillo grew up in Hopewell, attending Stony Brook Elementary School, Timberlane Middle School and Hopewell Valley Central High School. He has three siblings: older sister Brittany, older brother Logan, and younger sister Kylie. His parents are both environmental engineers.
“I am very lucky that I have parents that let me blow glass in their driveway and trust me not to blow anything up or light it on fire,” he says.
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Craft fairs may be few and far between this year, but that does not mean there are no ways to find artists and get a look — virtually or in person — at what they have to offer.
HomeFront is still hosting ArtJam 2020 this year at its family campus in Ewing. Shoppers can browse online at the website and at the gallery by appointment.