Doug Frates: Sea of Glass

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A sunset over a Mediterranean beach, the ocean meeting the sand, golden light reflected on crystal blue waters. At Vidrio, hundreds of handblown glass discs transport guests from the buzz of Glenwood South to the tranquil shores of Greece, Spain or Italy.

“I wanted to use my experience living in Spain, years ago when I was 19 or 20, as a guide,” says Doug Frates, the glassblower who, together with Vidrio’s interior designer, Giorgios Bakatsias, planned the design for the 30-by-50-foot wall-mounted assemblage, and created more than 700 unique glass pieces at his midwestern studio. It was a process that took more than a year.

“When I lived in Barcelona, especially, there is so much culture and so much romance behind that city,” Frates continues. “I wanted to incorporate that into the theme of the restaurant.”

The installation, a kaleidoscope of glass bowls and orbs fashioned to resemble sea shells and marine plants, is evocative and immersive, unique and breathtakingly beautiful. Reds and yellows, blue and golds, greens and violet tones shimmer over Vidrio’s cavernous dining room, a pleasing contrast to the rope chandeliers and wooden blocks and panelling decor that is reminiscent of a fisherman’s ship.

Frates—a former U.S. Marine who, after discovering glassblowing at a community college in Tuscon, opened his own studio in 2005—met Bakatsias at the High Point Furniture Market. Frates travelled to Raleigh and pitched his project idea—what would become the largest installation his studio had taken on thus far—to Vidrio’s owners, Lou and Joy Moshakos. After that, Frates says, he was given renderings of the restaurant and an essentially blank canvas to bring his glasswork to an environment that would be built around it.

“One of the benefits of having the renderings beforehand was that we could really, actually blow it out of the water,” Frates says. “I could see the environment and we could bring the glass into the environment.”

Glassblowing, as Frates describes it, is a fast-paced, sometimes stressful form of artistry, due to the high temperatures and the artist’s somewhat limited ability to plan how the final product will look. It requires patience and determination, Frates says; individual glass pieces can take between 45 minutes to three hours to complete.

“It’s unlike any other art form that’s really out there,” Frates says. “We like to let the glass tell us what it wants to do compared to us trying to force it to do something. That seems to be our best approach to it and that is what has gotten us to where we are now.”

“We” is himself and four employees who work at his 12,000 square-foot studio in Springfield, Ohio.

“We like to acquire talented people who understand projects like [Vidrio’s],” Frates says. “It’s funny, some days when we come in, like on a cloudy, gray day, when everybody’s personality is kind of dreary, we’ll make dreary pieces. But when it is sunny and beautiful, we’ll make sunny, beautiful work. That’s the reality of it sometimes.”

This month, Frates will spend an evening at Vidrio sharing his artistry, and some select pieces for sale, with restaurant patrons and fans of his work. Tickets range from $75—$100 for drinks and heavy hors d’oeuvres, and a portion of the sales will benefit the Young Marines, a national organization dedicated to mentoring young people in academic achievement and community service.

You can also find Frates’ work at La Maison in North Hills, or check out his studio online at dougfratesglass.com. For tickets to the Vidrio event on November 20, go to vidrioraleigh.com/blog.

Jane Porter

Jane is the editor of Raleigh Magazine. Questions, comments, criticisms/complaints? Email her at jane@raleighmag.com
Jane Porter

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Jane is the editor of Raleigh Magazine. Questions, comments, criticisms/complaints? Email her at jane@raleighmag.com