GLASS ACT: Naples artist Chad Burgess is a rare freehand glass etcher

Nori St. Paul/special to the Eagle 
 Chad Burgess operates a etching tool as he freehands a design on a wine glass in client's home on Marco Island. Burgess is a glass etcher, one of approximately 100 who freehand their designs.

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Nori St. Paul/special to the Eagle Chad Burgess operates a etching tool as he freehands a design on a wine glass in client's home on Marco Island. Burgess is a glass etcher, one of approximately 100 who freehand their designs.

Nori St. Paul/special to the Daily News 
 Chad Burgess uses these diamond encrusted bits in a Dremel to create freehand etches in glass and other materials.

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Nori St. Paul/special to the Daily News Chad Burgess uses these diamond encrusted bits in a Dremel to create freehand etches in glass and other materials.

Nori St. Paul/special to the Eagle 
 Chad Burgess operates a etching tool as he freehands a design on a wine glass in client's home on Marco Island. Burgess is a glass etcher, one of approximately 100 who freehand their designs.

Photo by Picasa

Nori St. Paul/special to the Eagle Chad Burgess operates a etching tool as he freehands a design on a wine glass in client's home on Marco Island. Burgess is a glass etcher, one of approximately 100 who freehand their designs.

Submitted 
 A Chad Burgess glass etching, which was created freehand from a photograph.  Burgess is a glass etcher, one of approximately 100 who freehand their designs.

Photo by Picasa

Submitted A Chad Burgess glass etching, which was created freehand from a photograph. Burgess is a glass etcher, one of approximately 100 who freehand their designs.

Nori St. Paul/special to the Eagle 
 Chad Burgess operates a etching tool as he freehands a design on a wine glass in client's home on Marco Island. Burgess is a glass etcher, one of approximately 100 who freehand their designs.

Photo by Picasa

Nori St. Paul/special to the Eagle Chad Burgess operates a etching tool as he freehands a design on a wine glass in client's home on Marco Island. Burgess is a glass etcher, one of approximately 100 who freehand their designs.

Submitted 
 A Chad Burgess glass etching.

Photo by Picasa

Submitted A Chad Burgess glass etching.

Nori St. Paul/special to the Daily News 
 For the last 10 years, artist Chad Burgess has created etchings on glass. He hopes to revive the art form.

Photo by Picasa

Nori St. Paul/special to the Daily News For the last 10 years, artist Chad Burgess has created etchings on glass. He hopes to revive the art form.

Mind if Chad Burgess cuts in? This is not a dance he's talking about; he wants people to appreciate his extremely rare art — freehand glass etching.

Burgess asserts that he is one of only 100 freehand glass engravers left in the entire world, but he claims his craft is growing in demand. Based on the success of the engraving store alone he opened in a mall in 2009 on a three-month lease during the winter holidays in Eau Claire, Wisc., Burgess, whose laid-back demeanor exudes small town genuineness, knows what he's talking about.

"I had been engraving about 10 years and saw this opportunity to open a store, and I said, 'What have I got to lose?' It was a hugely successful experiment," he says with a smile. His lease there ended, and close to that time, he received an invitation to visit a friend in Florida. The story is familiar: Burgess fell in love with this area.

Two weeks after he closed his store, in March of 2010, Burgess drove nonstop to Naples with everything he owned packed in his car, including his engraving tools, along with a boyhood filled with memories of collecting glass that help explain his passion for a unique art that has an interesting history of its own.

According to 33-year-old Burgess, who spoke while etching a job on Marco Island, the art of freehand glass engraving is a return to nostalgia, something people nowadays crave.

"It's an art," he says, "that is a dying breed, but far from dead. I believe that people are starting to turn back the other way, away from mass production and the throw-away society."

As he talks, that easy demeanor is clearly infused with passion for the deeper meaning behind his freehand engraving work. For information, visit Chad Burgess on Facebook at facebook.com/wistormchaser; or phone 239-537-9467.

"Any glass item you have hand-engraved has personal meaning and is going to be around forever," he says. "People are starting to see the value of this nostalgia again."

Although Burgess engraves other surfaces, such as brass musical instruments and placards, plastic and lead crystal, his starting point was in a childhood growing up in a world of glass. You could even say he was born to cut glass.

Burgess's professional glass etching journey starts in the small city of Corning, N.Y., (dubbed "Crystal City" in 1902 by a New York journalist for its two glass factories and more than a dozen glass-cutting shops) where Burgess was born in 1979 to a family that shared glassmaking conversation at the dinner table, and took it to their bank account by way of their paychecks. By the time Burgess was born, his grandfathers on both sides and his father all worked at the famed Corning Glass company. One grandfather recently retired from the Corning Glass Museum there.

Burgess' uncle owned the land where Corning Glass once dumped surplus glass pieces and chunks that came from cleaning the huge heated manufacturing tanks at the factory. This glass would eventually wash down the hill, and it was these colorful relics, some of them as big as two and three feet wide, says Burgess, that he spent his boyhood collecting, much as someone in Naples would collect shells from the beach.

His grandma would brighten her garden with glass pieces Burgess brought to her. At 18, he took a job at the glass factory with fiber optics. But Corning's not where he learned to etch; a girlfriend who etched other materials taught him the basics

"At one time or another, everyone in my family worked for Corning Glass. I just really grew up around glass," he adds as he carefully selects a special diamond bit to fit into his handheld Dremel (a brand name for the craft high-speed rotary tool). He was about to begin etching a water glass for Bronwyn Jones, a real estate agent on Marco Island. Jones has commissioned Burgess to carve her real estate logo into the glass gifts she gives to her customers.

Burgess says that the freehand method with a Dremel and diamond bits allows for the greatest artistic flexibility, and for one-of-a-kind creations like his. A pattern created on adhesive backed paper protects the glass. Burgess can make a pattern out of anything, including photographs. The Dremel tool uses variously sized abrasive tips at high speed to rough up the surface of the glass.

"It's almost a science," says Burgess. "You have to listen to the glass. You have to know the glass. If someone is going to give you a family heirloom to engrave, you want to make sure you don't break it."

Burgess wants to return to yesterday, a time, he says, when hand-engraved gifts were treasured and passed down in many families. He has taught the craft and is planning seminars to teach it in Naples.

Of potential competitors, Burgess says, "It's not really about the money all the time. I'd really like to see freehand engraving get back to its former glory, where it used to be... when people appreciated art. You know, this is something they will say, 'That person made this for me, and they made it at this time, and used this artist. It brings back the humanity of the gift giving in a world that has lost a lot of the feeling and touch. And, it preserves those memories in a way they can be showcased and handed down forever."

Sitting at a table in front of a few of the hundreds of projects Burgess has completed, including some for famous science fiction artists such as Larry Elmore and Kelly Brightbill

Then Burgess picks up his tool, and one line at a time, etches his mark in history.

For information, visit Chad Burgess on Facebook at facebook.com/wistormchaser; or phone 239-537-9467.

• Facebook.com/wistormchaser

• Phone: 239-537-9467

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