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  • Writer's pictureShea Stanfield

Creations with Light and Sound

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand." Einstein, and favorite quote of local designer and glass artist Brian Willis. Growing up in Wenatchee, Washington, a small town in a land covered by sagebrush and apple trees, a kid needed to develop a vivid imagination to sketch out the possibilities for the rest of his life. Between that and having a father that welcomed his son into his shop, Brian not only conceptualized ideas but also built them into reality with the skilled guidance of his craftsman father. Items imagined may be cutting boards, cabinets, boot pullers, or birdhouses, most of which were given as gifts to the absolute delight of family and friends. Brian learned firsthand the value of creating items of quality with attention detail.

Brian was one of those who understood that schooling is not the same as education, and the latter held many more possibilities for creative growth in the long run. Between that, recognizing opportunity when it came his way and the ability to say YES, led Brian into a very long and successful career in interior and merchandising design. Brian describes it as, "All beginning at the Watertown Tavern in Seattle," where he and other employees regularly change the interior of the Tavern to match the "theme" of the day; Watertown Beach Club, Santa A-Go-Go, or A Secret Garden.

The concept soon took off with independent Seattle retailers, and Brian's career was off and running. It wasn't long before Nordstrom came calling, offering Brian a position as a photo set designer and photo stylist for their advertising department. However, not to be outdone, Tommy Bahama pushed to the front of the line and grabbed Brian to design the interiors and visuals for a string of new stores the company was opening across the country.

"The delicacy and refractive beauty of glass combined with the loose and playful nature of fringe is a match made in my creative heaven."

Well, the question is, how did Brian make it to Arizona? The credit goes to Anthropologie for hiring him as their District Visual Manager. Considering Brian had always loved the desert, he jumped at the chance to have the best of all worlds. He found he had time at that point to form an off-the-clock relationship with his own creative spirit.

Brian admits, "I was looking for provocation from light, sound, and movement, which led me eventually to my attraction to kiln-formed glass." His introduction to glass as an art form had its roots in Brian's childhood hobby of collecting glass bottles. He would collect them from family, friends, and neighbors to earn extra money by cashing them in. Although not all the bottles made it back to the grocery store, the most colorful and unusual found their way to the windowsill of Brian's bedroom. He saw with sunlight; the colored glass bottles formed endless patterns and color combinations all over his bedroom walls every afternoon. Revisiting this memory along with the sound glass makes, as it "clanks together in transport," Brian discovered his new art form.

Today, designer and glass artist Brian Willis works from his home studio, creating glass art that moves, speaks, and delights in reflecting the colors of sunlight. Brian's passion for historical objects also plays a predominant role in designing each of his glass creations. Various historical items serve as elements of interest in Brian's spirit of repurposing objects and provide a use for them well beyond their intended shelf life. Recently the notion of glass fringe has taken on central importance in Brian's designs. He states, "The delicacy and refractive beauty of glass combined with the loose and playful nature of fringe is a match made in my creative heaven."

Brian enjoys hosting visitors at his studio. He feels it's essential for him to share his process with customers and admirers. He is a member of the Sonoran Arts League and participates in the annual Hidden in the Hills Studio Tour in November. Technology has provided an opportunity for him to connect with new customers and sell his work to collectors. In Brian Willis's vibrantly colorful world, imagination guides his creative process and unique designs. His astonishingly beautiful glass creations are a favorite with glass art collectors across the country.


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