The Real McCoy: Richard Hamon Reflects Upon Robert Hamon's Creative Genius

This article is about a conversation I had with my father, Richard Hamon I, shortly before his death in April of 2019, concerning his brother, Robert L. Hamon, and the family glass blowing business. Dad spoke of my uncle’s creative genius, which is something that all who knew Bob could see and feel. Fortunately, Bob put that genius to work creating beautiful decorative glass and works of art glass.

Dad was the last remaining sibling of Robert’s family, and was a rich resource for information about the early days of the Hamon Glass Company. On many occasions, he told the story of how his older brother, Bob, turned the family business into an art glass studio.

Dad was an authority on Bob's work, as he and Bob were very close and remained in constant contact with each other throughout Bob's life. Dad served as a technical advisor and glass engineer to Uncle Bob, and helped him to advance in his career as a glass artist. Together they made a powerful design team whose creative efforts culminated in the creation of some of Bob’s finest art pieces, innovative paperweights and imaginative marbles.

The late Robert Hamon was many things — a man of many talents — and my father was one of his biggest fans. I talked with dad on 2/11/18 about the history of Hamon Glass and his relationship with my uncle. Here are some interesting thoughts from our conversation.

“How would you describe your brother, Robert, as a glassblower?” I asked.

“First,” dad said, “he was very unusual in that he not only designed his art glass, but he had the skills to make it. And he wasn’t just an artist who knew a few glassblowing techniques. He mastered every glassblowing skill imaginable. Some of those skills take years to acquire, and Bob spent decades honing his skills. He had an enormous number of tools in his artist’s toolbox, and could do virtually anything in glass. He was a gifted glassblower, not just a glass artist. The combination made him special.”

“So true. I’ve watched many glassblowers work, and watching him was like watching consummate pro. He made it look easy.”

“Yes,” dad said, tugging on his Tampa Bay Rays cap, “and sometimes his setup man or assistant had to hurry to keep up with him. He was poetry in motion. Of course, when you’re working with hot glass, you can’t let the glass cool before you form it. Or it’ll go into the scrap bucket. Second, Bob was great with color. His combinations were probably constructed on an intuitive level, but were distinctive and flawless. Rarely did he do something that I didn’t like. People loved his color schemes. They are very pleasing to the eye, and they take you somewhere.“

“Yet, they are subtle, and they evoke an emotional response. He reminds me of Wassily Kandinsky, the Russian painter, who used color to express emotion and to stir inner consciousness.”

“Okay, third, he was a workhorse. Physically capable of doing things in a hot studio that others could not do, such as wielding heavy blobs of molten glass around like they were feathers, he had the powerful forearms of a true glassblower.”

“When I was little, I always thought he had the powerful forearms of Popeye.”

“Well, Bob was a gifted athlete,” dad said with a chuckle. “His coordination and physical determination were off the charts. It made watching him work in the studio a special experience.”

“Dad, you really know you’re brother. I’ve seen Bob do things that only a gifted athlete could do. He was, in fact, a very athletic and formidable figure, and yet his art exudes a fine aesthetic.”

“Last but not least, Bob was an entertainer, who kept observers enthralled as they watched him work. He could gather a little glass and turn it into any animal figurine that someone from the audience requested him to make — and he’d get it right on the very first try. Oohs and awes erupted from the audience.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen him do it, and he brought tears to my eyes a few times.”

“I saw it happen a thousand times. He was a magician.”

“A magician working a hushed crowd, mystifying them as he pulled glass rabbits out of his hat.”

“You got it,” dad said with a hearty nod. “Also, my brother was a paperweight maker, not just a glass artist, and not everyone can do that. He could make any type of paperweight. Bob made more beautiful, one-of-a-kind glass than anyone I’ve heard of, and there is no record of it. People often bought the works they watched him create. So, after the piece was polished and annealed, and signed, it went home with them. And sometimes they took home masterpieces.”

“They were taking home original pieces and, for Uncle Bob, it was just another day in the life of an artist.”

“That’s right. No big deal. Dick, he did everything in glass. He put his creative genius to work, along the way. Those were 62 very special years — years he invested in a special glass career. Bob was absolutely devoted to glass. What a career. What a life. What a man.”

Strong emotion welled up inside me, as dad talked, his words ringing true and melding with all my memories of my glassblowing uncle.

Dad adjusted his reading glasses with a little nudge, as he studied a number of photographs of Bob’s work that were spread out on the table before us, his head shaking in admiration. “And, Bob taught some of the best glass artists in the business, artists who have made their own wonderful contributions in glass. He loved teaching, mentoring and encouraging others. He loved giving. He had a heart of gold.”

“Indeed. He gave so much to me, I have always felt I would be indebted to him.”

“Oh, and I need to add something . . . Bob knew how to finish a piece of glass. His work was refined, and there was a subtlety to it that you only find in great art. There are many things you could say about Bob. But, that would take hours.”

“Wow, this is great stuff, Dad. Thank you for giving me a unique perspective on the man so many of us loved so deeply. Anything you’d like to add?”

My father’s deep, brown eyes searched high and low for the answer. Finally, he said, “Yes.” Dad looked at me with great sincerity. “In every sense of the word, he was a master. And, that’s how I’ll always remember him. At least one person I have known and loved was a real master. The real McCoy. ”

— Richard Hamon II






The Crystal Chalice: Hamon Communion Ware Revisited

In the early 1950s, Hamon Glass Company made several thousand communion glasses a day. The handsome hand-blown wonders were high-quality vessels that would receive wine or grape juice for the Christian sacrament of communion in many churches across America. As a kid, I spent a fair amount of time hanging around the family glass factory and watching in amazement, as the workers blew glass. I thought the tiny chalices were simply fascinating. Just one communion glass was an impressive sight, but a table piled-high with them was a treasure trove. Our communion ware was wrapped in white tissue paper and placed in white cardboard boxes, before being shipped to churches all across America.

Not only were the glasses small, but they were shiny and translucent, and no less intriguing than precious gems. I spent hours watching my father and the other glassblowers making the crystal chalices, and never seemed to get bored. After all, I was watching a well-choreographed dance, as two men working together produced the dimunitive treasures that meant so much to my grandfather, the founder of Hamon Glass Company. Sometimes there were several two-man teams working at the same time, which made it even more interesting for us bystanders.

Although my grandfather’s business eventually made decorative glass, I think the communion glasses were his favorite product. Religion was important to him. There was a need and he wanted to fill it. As a minister with his own church, he enjoyed supplying churches of different denominations with handmade crystal chalices. I recall how hefty and solid the glasses felt in the hand, and how beautiful the crystal was when held up to the light. And being hand-blown, each glass had its own character.

Hamon Glass gave my uncle, Robert Hamon, his start in glass. Eventually, he would take the company over, as my grandparents transitioned into retirement, and turn the business into a studio where he would focus on creating glass art. He would make bigger and greater things, although, in my mind, nothing serves as a better reminder of the company’s humble, but noble beginnings than the simple, yet elegant communion glass.

— Richard Hamon II

Richard Hamon, A Glass Engineer

Robert’s younger brother, Richard, is on the left. Bob is shown wearing his trademark hanky, which he wore whenever he was working in the hot studio.

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The Hamon Marble

The Hamon marble is one of the best marbles in the market. Yet, Robert delved into the marble world late in his career, and made many nice pieces during the mid- to late-nineties. His brother, Dick, suggested that he get into marble making because his considerable glass blowing skills would serve him well. Indeed, Bob made gorgeous marbles, all by hand, just the way he would craft paperweights, which was his first love. 

The Hamon marble had to be good enough to maintain Robert's reputation as one of the most skilled artists in the state and country. Brother Dick was one of Bob's best friends and, together they imagined glass designs and worked out the technical details. Their collaboration continued until the twilight of Bob's career. Dick went to marble shows and sold Bob's handcrafted marbles, and provided an important link to the marble world. Bob, on the other hand, liked to stay at home in Scott Depot, West Virginia, where he could be near his studio, and work any time of the day or night. He took long walks in the woods, seeking inspiration, and found new ideas in his dreams. Making several walks to the studio, which adjoined his home, Bob kept an eye on the glass studio day and night.  

Bob would have been a hit at the marble shows because of his gregarious, outgoing personality. He was one of the most interesting and compelling, even charismatic individuals I've ever known. And Bob's glass was as alluring as Bob himself. 

What makes the Hamon marble exceptional? First, Bob made his own glass, using time-honored secret recipes. Okey B. Hamon, Bob's father, had a very nice crystal recipe, which Bob modified over the years, resulting in a spectacular crystal, built upon Bob's own chemistry. The Hamon marble shines partly due to the high quality of glass used to make it. 

As a child, I used to marvel at the huge piles of chemicals used in making glass, and watching the men fill-in or put the raw batch in with shovels. The glowing furnaces were a thing of beauty to my mind, and the heat they generated just shimmered in the air, the sweat pouring from the glass worker's faces. 

Second, Robert brought a broad and substantial craft to the task of marble making, which made his marbles better than average. Bob built and annealed his marbles properly, removing areas of stress in the glass, and his high level of craftsmanship, as a glass artist, provided the foundation for exceptionally designed and executed marbles. Bob was a consummate maker of free-form, hand-blown sculptures, figurines, paperweights, vases, candy dishes, flower vases and just about every other type of glass concoction. 

On many occasions, I watched my uncle entertain large groups of people by making impromptu figurines. He'd ask someone in the audience what they wanted him to make and he'd make it, right then and there. And, it would look incredible. The "oohs and awes" erupted from stunned audience members as the pieces cooled and came to life. 

Third, there were few imperfections, such as unwanted bubbles, in Bob's marbles. Uncompromising quality and technique ensured a beautiful marble, combined with crystal glass clear and bright, and of exceptional clarity. As time went by and Bob became more skilled in navigating the demands of handcrafted marbles, he put a great deal of effort into his artful color-combining, which I feel makes the Hamon marble stand out from the crowd. 

In the end, Bob learned to enjoy making marbles, although I think he found them less challenging than paperweights or his large solid-glass art sculptures. It seemed that whenever Bob was making marbles, perhaps along with brothers Don and Dick, there were plenty of jokes and laughs (a few off-color) to go around. If you were an innocent bystander, you had to be ready to end up as the brunt of a joke, too. Everyone got into the action, and everyone had fun. 

What good therapy it was. I'd spend hours watching my uncles toil in the heat of the family glass studio, and laugh like I was attending a George Carlan show -- Carlan was Bob's favorite comedian -- while having the opportunity to watch Bob mix colors and spin his tiny glass marvels out of globs of flaming-hot glass. Watching a handful of freshly made marbles slowly reveal their true colors, as the orange glow of the heat faded, was a joy I'll never forget. I can still feel the heat penetrate the pores of my skin and warm my soul. 

Bob was not your average marble maker. And he only made marbles for a few years, but how special they were. And what memories they made. I treasure the Robert Hamon marbles that I own, and I like to pull them out and examine them in the shards of light from a sunny window, as all the old memories flood into consciousness. Memories of a most unusual glass master sweating before the glory hole, as he was heating-in, or gathering from the hot glass tank, dance in my mind, larger than life. 

Fridays were the hardest days on which to gather because the glass level had been lowering all week, until the glass was so low that the glassblower had to reach further into the tank, exposing his hands to the blistering heat. I've seen my uncle handle hot pipes that no normal man could have handle with his bare hands, and not even flinch. He was a tough man with refined tastes, and skills that he spent a lifetime building. Sixty-two years is a long time to blow glass. And it's a daunting span of time, exposing the glassblower to many physical and mental hazards. But, by the end of his sojourn in the world of glass, Bob was at the peak of his powers.

And we are the benefactors, for we have the fruits of his labors to admire and cherish.  

A Gift That Keeps On Giving

This morning the light fell on the table in just the right way to showcase a set of foot-high pitchers that Uncle Bob made about fifty years ago, and the result was spectacular. They are amber and red, elegant and symmetrical. The crackled glass is gorgeous, pure and phosphorescent. They're simply beautiful and simple, expertly crafted, with smooth, even tops, well-sealed handles and all the attention to detail that only a true glass master could accomplish.

How many times I've walked through that room and not seen the beauty exuded by these timeless pieces. This morning was different. The window light was diffused perfectly by the curtains to light the glass through and through without being overly bright. Mother nature had constructed her own light box to eliminate distracting reflections, and to enhance the mystery of the glass by wrapping them in a celestial aura.  

Life is good when we take time to stop and smell the roses or find time to observe art. How things so old and nearly forgotten can come alive when we open our eyes and see in a new way. Peering into the lovely works of glass artists, who practice a time-honored tradition, is one of my favorite ways to exact revenge on a cruel world. As a child, I remember watching my uncles Bob, Leo and Don, performing their magic in the studio, just like pulling rabbits out of a hat. My father worked alongside them, and all seemed like magicians of the highest order to me. Incidentally, dad still talks about how his father had him doing fairly high-level work in the glass factory when he was just a young child. Of course, dad jumped at the opportunity to work alongside the accomplished glassblowers, and to participate in the artful process of making hand blown glass.  Whether he was gathering from the furnace or polishing a rough edge, dad was never more at home than when he was helping out in the old Scott Depot factory. Aunt Dorothy worked in the family glass business, as well, helping in the packing room, wrapping communion glasses, taking orders over the phone and waiting on customers in the gift shop. 

All these years later, I still get misty-eyed looking at the marvelous works created by my father, his brothers and only sister -- creations that stand the test of time, like these vases. I am reminded that art exists in this crazy world of ours to help us recover our lost soul. I'll update this blog when I find time to photograph the vases. But, I assure you, a photograph will not do it justice, nor can I duplicate that special, quicksilver moment that occurred this morning when the sun splashed through the window and onto the table in the perfect, soft, feathery way, as if an angel had arranged an exquisite view of an old fashioned set of handcrafted vases -- gifts that keep on giving. 

Reflecting on the Past

Robert Hamon's work has been featured in numerous shows and galleries, and earned the artist many awards, over his lifetime. In 1998, his Study Of Earth Elements And Fire, appeared in a juried exhibit sponsored by the Marshall University Graduate College. I had the privilege of seeing his sculpture there, and have never forgotten it.

The entry consisted of three blown bowls, each a different color, but positioned together, as if petals blooming from the same flower. The bowls are streaked with white and colored stripes, but their predominant colors are maroon, grey and blue. The exhibit was 28" by 32". For the show catalog, it was photographed from above, using light boxes and umbrellas to soften the light and reduce unwanted reflections. It took weeks of hard work to produce the bowls, finish and polish them.

Planning The Piece

I remember discussing the bowls with my uncle during the planning phase. He wanted the blown bowls to be irregular in shape, and each different, but to fit together seamlessly. Even for a seasoned glassblower, it was a challenge getting the shapes the way he wanted, and to find the exact color combinations he envisioned. The final challenge was to arrange them in just the right manner. The final result wa a hit.

There were many wonderful pieces in the show -- and many quite imaginative -- but my uncle's sculpture was one of the most popular, and aesthetically pleasing. An example of beautiful and gently refined art glass.

The bowls were free-blown, heated in, spun and flared out. He did a little cutting to get the asymmetrical shape, and he positioned the sides to achieve a lobsided look. I was fortunate enough to watch him blow the bowls, and my heart raced with excitement as he turned the rod and the thin glass fluttered in mid-air. It seemed the bowls would fly off the pipe at any moment and land in the middle of the studio floor!

A Background In Glass

Robert began learning the art of free-form and mold-blowing in his father's glass factory at the age of 10. At the age of 12, he became known as the youngest free-blown chimney maker in the world. He honed his skills by making communion glasses for churches in the United States, along with crystal stem ware.

Eventually, he became the head glass blower at Pilgrim Glass in Huntington, West Virginia and taught glass finishing there. Robert was driven to be the best he could be, and served as Chief Designer and Glass Chemist at the family enterprise, Hamon Glass Company.

In the mid 1960s, Hamon purchased the family business and became plant manager. He became the glass designer for Kanawha Glass, after it merged with Hamon Glass. Along the way, he continued to sharpen his glass blowing skills. In 1969, he started his "Artist Series" of glass, in which he made commissioned pieces and developed his first glass sculptures. The art glass grew steadily and, from that point on, he was dedicated to making various collections.

A Passion For Color And Movement

Many admirers have told me they feel Robert L. Hamon's glass is alive. It has energy or spirit... and moves inside the viewer.

I am looking at a small sculpture he made as a gift for me when I opened my first psychotherapy practice in the early 1980s. It was intended to sit on my desk or a table in my office. And that's where it sits now -- in my current office. He wanted it to inspire my clients and to elicit an emotional response. It was designed to appeal to the unconscious mind and probe one's inner resources, a feat which it has proven to accomplish on numerous occasions.

The Glass Artist's Highest Aspiration

The mostly crystal sculpture with light blue, cobalt, red and white glass ribbons inside, roughly resembles a ghost in shape, with four small protrusions, almost like small fins or flippers, emanating at various angles from the elongated body. It is one heckuva conversation piece!

Light reflects on the shiny surface and passes through it, often mingling with the grain of the wood in my desk and the cottony texture of nearby papers and reports.

The free-formed sculpture has no name, although he and I tried to find a suitable one. I have chosen to leave it untitled, and to think of it in a way that goes beyond the limits of mere words. Although the piece is not as grand as some in my collection, it is my most cherished. Encapsulated in that sculpture is the glass artist's hope for all humankind: to look within and discover hidden realities that would lead to an understanding of our greatest potential.

Since displaying the Hamon sculpture in my office in the early 1080s, countless individuals have seen the piece. Their comments are too humorous to list here, but I will say the solid glass piece has generated an enormous amount of curiosity, over the years. Many of my adolescent clients have enjoyed trying to figure out what it is, or what Bob intended it to be. They always look for hidden themes and arcane meanings -- a fact that would please my uncle.

Discover More About Robert L. Hamon's Glass

You can sometimes find Bob's glass on e-bay at other locations. I hope you'll visit his new website to learn more about my talented and enigmatic uncle, who sadly passed away a few years ago. But his legacy, and the legacy of Hamon Glass, lives on.

-- Richard Hamon II

Designing the glassblowing studio at Tamarack

Robert helped to design the glassblowing studio at Tamarack in Beckley, where today glassblowers craft their wares and thousands of customers watch through large glass windows. I remember when Bob was envisioning the studio and working with the blueprints, which were often spread out on the pool table, which he sometimes kept in the living room. When I'd come for a visit, we'd look the blueprints over, possibly make some drawings, and then play pool. Bob invited ideas and criticism from those around him. After we played pool, he and his wife, Veronica, would make the world's greatest pizzas, starting with their own signature dough and sauce. Just smelling the pizzas as they cooked was enough to drive me wild. Each of us had our own pizza, and it was usually late by the time they were served. We talked about glass, psychology, football, metaphysics and religion until the wee hours of the night. Then we'd start again the following morning, and take a trip to the studio to adjust the fires of the furnaces and ovens.