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