Remembering Studio Glass Pioneer Brian Lonsway (1940–2001)

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Brian LonswayBrian 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 Though the club is no longer active, its former members said it was important that the final dispersal of its funds recognize Mr.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.”

7 Responses to “Remembering Studio Glass Pioneer Brian Lonsway (1940–2001)”

  1. Sharon F. Simmons says:

    Brian was a great artist and a good friend — and I often think of his “formal” overalls! I am so delighted to see him honored in this way.

  2. Debra J Pezzin says:

    I have such fond memories of Brian, as a young girl he grew up across the streat from me and would give me rides to church in his Model To Ford. Later I would see him in Waterville and am so glad I purchased several of him Christmas ornaments before leaving the Toledo area.

  3. Tim Mattimoe says:

    Brian was a dear old friend from my previous life in Toledo. His life was his art and he delighted everyone who was fortunate enough to know him. I treasure a small, mysteriously dark purple vase from his early glassblowing career and fill it with spring violets in his memory. I am happy that the Glass Club of Toledo is honoring this fine man with a donation to the TMA Glass Pavillion.

  4. Brian was the most unforgettable person I ever met. We worked together at Donaldson Air Force Base, Greenville, South Carolina in 1960 when he was only 20 years old. I am so sorry to know he passed away in 2001.

  5. Sherri Reveal says:

    In 1980 I saw a beautiful clear glass paperweight in an Ann Arbor store window. Someone asked me what I’d like for a graduation gift and I mentioned the paperweight. 45 years later, I began trying to identify the artists of the paperweights in my collection. I searched for “Lonsway paperweights” and found this site. So glad to finally know who made my wonderful, first paperweight.

  6. Just happened upon this site today and so proud of my big brother. I miss the old days when I would help him in his studio on Detroit Ave. Brian is missed everyday and I can feel his presence so often, especially when I paint. Thank you goes out to the old Glass Club and the Toledo Museum of Art for the wonderful tribute.

  7. Dina Lom says:

    Hi, I have a bottle signed by Mr Lonsway, on the front it reads Glass Collectors Club of Toledo & the bottom is signed & dated 1983. Would anyone have any info on this piece.
    Thank you

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