A Half-Century of Art – Erie Reader

Contributed photo

Glass Growers Gallery, located at 10 E. Fifth St., is constantly evolving, with rotating displays of different artists, mediums, gifts, and, of course, glass; the past 50 years have been witness to the growth and flexibility of the business.

Asmall art space with a big personality is approaching its 50th anniversary. For half of a century, Glass Growers Gallery has served as a charming home for local art and artisan goods. They host art exhibitions, gallery nights, and sell a variety of eclectic gifts, ranging from driftwood sculptures and jewelry, to tongue-in-cheek novelty socks and candles. The gallery’s whimsical name is reflected in its interior. The building’s large windows let natural light pour in to reflect off of the myriad of hanging glass ornaments. Each display explodes with color and texture. From the floor to the walls and in every corner there is art to discover.

“It’s a happy store. It’s fun to work around my co-workers, but also to work with the different artists and see what they create,” said Suebee Martin, who has worked at Glass Growers for 14 years. “It’s exciting when new work comes in here that we haven’t seen before, or a new artist is discovered. But then we also love seeing our beloved artists that we’ve represented for years.”

After a half of a century in business, Glass Growers has built relationships with local artists, the longest working relationship being 45 years (Susan Stone). On Saturday, May 4 the gallery will host an exhibition opening to celebrate these long-term partnerships and to kick off their anniversary festivities.

“We have 10 artists who have been with us for over 20 years, all working on pieces that are a little bit representative of their connection with Glass Growers over the years,” owner of Glass Growers Emily Ernes (40 Under 40 class of 2022) explained.

Ernes said that some of the displays during the exhibition will reflect the beginning of the gallery, with kaleidoscopes and terrariums. When Glass Growers opened in 1974, founders John and Deborah Vahanian showcased similar sculptures and fixtures, using a process of molding glass and silicone in geodesic domes that gave the gallery its name. Since then, Glass Growers has gone through many transformations and has resided in three different buildings across Downtown Erie throughout its lifetime. In 2020, Deborah Vahanian retired and passed the torch to Emily Ernes, who has maintained the gallery’s mission to support local artists.

A mainstay in the Erie art gallery scene for the past 50 years, Glass Growers Gallery continues to build upon the vision that Deborah Vahanian brought into being back in 1974. (contributed photo)

“We’re just very much listening to our customers, listening to our artists, and just kind of continuing to evolve with that.” Ernes said. “The thing about Glass Growers is it’s this ever-changing place all on its own.”

The gallery itself perpetually evolves, as the main exhibit is rotated every six to eight weeks. In March and April, they celebrated the total solar eclipse with the exhibit Light Obscured, a collection of pieces by the Northwest Pennsylvania Art Association (NPAA) as well as celestial-themed gifts and jewelry.

“We always have so much fun with our different exhibits; they all have such a different flavor and it’s just amazing to hear from the artists about what inspired their most recent collection of works.” Ernes said.

Beyond art exhibits, the gallery also holds a variety of creative workshops where participants make polymer clay earrings, Pysanky eggs, mosaic tiles, watercolor paintings, paper kites, and more. “I think a big, big mission throughout the years and also moving forward for Glass Growers is to have individuals really discover their creative selves,” Ernes said, explaining that previous owner Vahanian echoed this sentiment as well.

Glass Growers will wrap up their Celebrating 50 Years exhibit with an anniversary party on Saturday, June 1 to commemorate and celebrate the history of the gallery. The festivities will include DIY bouquets and a flower cart from Fairview’s locally grown flower boutique loveletters, DIY kaleidoscopes, live music, food trucks, and more. Ernes described the event as “a broader thank you to the community.”

Chief curator Noreen Finn, who has worked at the gallery since 1998, explained that Erie’s local art community is something to be proud of. “We have a fabulous local art community. I can say that as a former teacher and now someone here who works very closely with artists. I don’t know many other places I’ve traveled where I could say that.” Finn said.

For more information about Glass Growers Gallery and their upcoming events visit: glassgrowersgallery.com

Alana Sabol can often be found snuggling her cats or baking at Herb and Honey on the weekends. She can be reached at alanacsabol@gmail.com.

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