Gallery Profiles

Bending Life Through Colored Glass

UseBy Terry Sanville ~

Some people start at Point A and take what seems like a direct path to Point B. But for American men in the 1960s, the Vietnam War coupled with the draft made finding one’s path all that more challenging.

Such was the case with San Luis Obispo glass artist Richard Mortensen.

Richard grew up in Whittier, California. His father died when he was just two and his mother worked full time to raise him and his two brothers. After graduating from high school in 1964, his life took many twists and turns. He:

IMG_1493Enjoyed the heck out of art classes in junior college;
Joined the Marine Corps Reserves during the Vietnam War but happily was never activated;
Studied biology at Long Beach State and earned a B.S. degree;
Married Carol, an oil, acrylic and watercolor artist and teacher of art and science;


Joined the Peace Corps along with Carol and spent two years teaching at jungle schools in Belize;
Attended graduate school at Oregon State University, Corvallis, and studied entomology;
Worked for the U.S. Forest Service developing biological controls for insect pests;
Worked for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management doing background security checks for prospective federal employees;
Worked for the National Nuclear Security Agency at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory;
Retired to San Luis Obispo in 2007 after working for the feds for 37 years – wow!

J360x270-34622Somehow in the multiple folds of Richard’s life, art happened. While working in eastern Washington State, he began playing with stained glass. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Carol taught a class in “fused glass.”

Richard fell in love with this medium. He’s been producing both high art and whimsical glass pieces since the early 1990s.

Richard’s process begins when he “discovers” a design for a particular piece. As he works with the different types of glass, the materials suggest a design that comes together in sometimes-unexpected ways.

“I finished a piece made with black glass with white and gray areas,” he said. “A woman said she especially liked the three nudes she saw in the design. Now, whenever I look at the piece all I see are nudes.”

He then uses cutters and diamond saws to cut the colored glass into pieces and fit them together on a flat plane – like a close-fitting jigsaw puzzle.

MortensenRichard“I bleed a lot when I’m producing my pieces,” Richard joked.

The flat plane is placed in a kiln, slowly heated to over 1,400 degrees then gradually cooled. This process “fuses” the glass pieces into a smooth flat plate. The plate is then placed over a stainless steel or ceramic mold and slowly fired to more than 1,000 degrees. The flat plate “slumps” into the mold to form the desired shape.

Richard’s work is influenced by the art he saw while exploring Central and South America. His plates, platters, bowls and other vessels use high-color or dark moody glass in striking combinations to create one-of-a-kind works.

“I never do the exact same thing twice,” he said adding that he produces fun pieces for the Halloween and Christmas holidays. “People seem to like these, and they sell well.”

To see Richard’s work, check out https://sites.google.com/site/moricaglass/ or visit The Gallery at the Network in downtown SLO or Studios on the Park in Paso Robles. For more information, contact Richard at r.morten@sbcglobal.net.