June 24, 2021

cruciforme

travel, Always a step ahead

Inside the studio of John T. Unger, creator of gorgeous sculptural firebowls

2 min read

I first met my friend John T. Unger back in the early 2000s when I stumbled upon his amazing sculptural firebowls — crafted from the round ends of recycled propane tanks. 

I adored the meta nature of this form he invented: The bowls are crafted from a substance that’s related to fire itself (propane tanks), decorated with licking-flame patterns redolent of the paint jobs on 1950s hotrods, and are, in the end, functional containers for flame — you build a fire inside, and it casts gorgeous flame-shadows in all directions …

I love layered, functional art like this.

John became a regular and brilliant commenter on my old blog Collision Detection, a prolific blogger himself, and has continually cranked out evermore ambitious art using reclaimed materials, including a series of huge mosaics — one of my favorites is his massive American flag mosaic made from 20,000 Budweiser beer caps.

But he’s also kept on making those sculptural firebowls and selling them to clients around the world, from everyday homeowners to hotels and businesses (there’s a “Big Bowl ‘O Zen” on the rooftop of Google HQ in Chicago). He’s made over 2,2000 bowls so far.

I’d always hoped to visit his studio in Hudson, NY, and last summer I finally got a chance. It was trippy and wonderful — I took a pile of photos on my phone, and I’d been meaning to share them online, so: Le voila, below!

Here’s what the curved tops of the propane tanks look like before they become bowls …

This next one isn’t actually my photo — it’s by Jesse Turnquist — but it shows the awesome sparky intensity of him doing this metalwork …

I loved seeing this pile of cut-out metal — the negative space around the firebowl decorations, the part that’s stripped away as he works …

A panorama of his workspace, with the steel-cutting tools …

His welder’s helmet — I can’t imagine how many hours this has been on John’s head …

His barn workspace has a ton of awesome old signs and stuff he’s picked up over the years — this one caught my eye:

Here are some masks he made out of shovels …

One of the bowls John mounted outside the barn where he works …

Recently, he put up for sale a bowl with a celestial theme, below — it includes an actual meteorite, welded on at the center of the star …

There are tons more pictures of his art at his site, including photos of his amazing mosaics — go check it out.

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