Sunshine, even on the most lackluster day, burns round the clock in East Lawrence.
It was a dreary, gray, drooling morning in Lawrence, the first summer Monday and one as slow and bleak as pine sap, a cloudy cool break from the season's furnace, cars splattered with mist and mud and full of weary workers headed to quiet, dark shops and fluorescent offices. The week was young and unwelcome.
But I saw in the endless bank of clouds that hung heavy over the muddied earth a fantastic silver lining -- actually silver, cobalt and a smattering of copper -- that swirled within the sunrise glow at 307 E. Ninth.
There was color, cooked to 2200 degrees Fahrenheit and then cooled in the lower level of an old stone building where sandy, slender Dick Rector hobbled on a recently repaired knee as he prepared the day's dip into liquid sky and the molten rainbow of the glass blower's universe.
He was in shorts and a T-shirt -- loose clothes for hot work. Iris, the old gray cat who loves all, lapped from a bucket of water intended to cool hot glass.
"She's so good they named a flower after her," said Rector, the 35-year-old co-owner of Free State Glass.
This summer, the 10-year-old business in East Lawrence is staffed primarily by a trio of 21-year-old women. They are learning from Rector and partner Jim Slough the subtleties of producing an inventory of softball-sized globes of color and light, paper weights the company calls asteroids, most of which will be sold outside of Lawrence in galleries from coast to coast.
The women are learning the fluid magic of forming elements born of cosmic forces into a human creation -- into art.
Courtney Skeeba filled buckets with water and laid out thin strands, shards and powders of colored glass on a metal plate.
Later she used a metal rod to remove a blob of glowing tangerine from a furnace that runs 24 hours a day, then dabbed it into the colored fragments to create twists of reds, greens and blues inside what would later be a clear sphere.
After Karen Whiteside and Megan Moore arrived, they worked with Rector and Skeeba in a cramped area by the furnaces in what at first looked like accident-doomed chaos.
But it was ballet.
While two of them pinched, rolled and twirled glowing glass, then dipped it, mixed it, crimped it with forms like the fish tool, the others stood by to assist, and near the end of the 10- to 15-minute process retrieved a second lump of orange to ooze onto the first.
The asteroids were then rounded in molds and removed from the rods with mitts and placed in an 875-degree oven to be slowly cooled over 15 hours.
The shop is filled with other projects, some commercial, such as sunflower paper weights, some of it Rector's private projects, and with what he calls his "real" work, such as an abstract, amber-colored sculpture with petroglyph themes inside.
"I have friends who after college put on a tie and got jobs and started making money, and now they wish they were doing what I'm doing," Rector said.
On this dark summer morning he cleared the skies, filled them with sunlight and blue. I beheld the cooling creations, and wished I could do it too.