Brian Lonsway was always something of a showman.
His 1970s glassblowing demos were spectacles, drawing attention to a then-new artistic medium. He’d walk down Monroe Street behind a trailer equipped with a glass furnace and working bench, hopping on and off the rig with his glassblowing pipe, a gregarious artist putting on his own live street show. At home, he entertained audiences as they watched him create new vessels from broken bottles he’d collected from the Libbey Glass Factory.
Now the late artist is being remembered by the Glass Club of Toledo with a donation in his honor to the Toledo Museum of Art Glass Pavilion. Mr. Lonsway served as the club’s president, acting as a liaison between the organization and the Museum and as a tireless community-wide promoter for glassblowing. Though the club is no longer active, its former members said it was important that the final dispersal of its funds recognize Mr. Lonsway and support glass arts.
“Brian was bigger than life,” said Sharon Frankel, a local glass maker and former president of the club. “We just want to keep his spirit alive, because he was such a spirit to us.”
Mr. Lonsway’s career had a decidedly un-artistic start—he completed stints in the Air Force, the seminary, the University of Toledo and at a ship yard. It wasn’t until he secured a job working at Owens-Illinois’ experimental glass melt unit that his interest in glassblowing was piqued.
“He decided he would make glass his life’s work and open a business,” said Christine Lonsway, Mr. Lonsway’s wife.
Although he operated a studio in downtown Toledo for a time, his eventual workspace was a historic home in Waterville. He built his own furnace on the property and became known for what he called “chambered forms,” glass vases and paperweights that had web-like interior decorations. He also created glass keys to the city of Toledo and award trophies for major companies.
Lonsway’s madcap personality made him a popular figure around the area. He attended symphony concerts in starched and pressed carpenter’s overalls, a wood inlaid hammer in the loop of his trousers. And every Christmas he’d weave twinkling lights through his beard and drive around the area in his top-down red convertible.
“Glass was a vehicle for him,” said Christine. “Anything he worked at, he did with creativity and humor.”