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All fired up — 'Recycled glass artist' says her favorite project is whatever is in her kiln

SUGAR HOUSE — When it comes to recycling glass, Jodie McRaney Rusho is clearly a cut above the rest.

Rusho describes herself as a "recycled glass artist," who not only works with recycled glass but has also recycled herself from burned-out business person into an artist.

It all began when Rusho got interested in making her own jewelry, including making her own glass beads.

"I bought the biggest kiln available," said Rusho. "Then I had no money left over for glass. But I couldn't wait to use the kiln, so I went and melted a bunch of recycled glass."

Rusho was fascinated by the glass and became addicted to the new art form, but at first getting recycled glass was a problem.

"In the beginning, I would drive around Sugar House during spring cleanup and take (recycled) glass off people's piles," said Rusho. "One time, I made three trips to the same home to get a 4x4 piece of glass. I couldn't fit it in my small car, so I came back with my Explorer, but it still didn't fit. I finally had to come back a third time and cut it with my tools right there on the street to put it in the back of my Explorer."

Now Rusho has people bringing her glass — so much, in fact, she doesn't give out her home address anymore and asks for people to call her first about glass donations.

Stacks of windows and bags and boxes of bottles have taken over the back half of Rusho's driveway.

"I'll go through most of this in a week," said Rusho, pointing to the bags and boxes nearby.

Rusho is a warm-glass artist, which means she puts her piece in the kiln at room temperature and takes it out at room temperature. She never handles the glass while it's hot, like a glass blower does.

"It takes more planning," said Rusho. "The end result happens while you're not there. You have to know what you want the results to be and think backwards of the steps it will take to get there."

Rusho is good at creating the end result she wants. Her finished artwork comes in all shapes, designs and textures. The colors are predetermined by the piece of glass that was donated and sometimes the charter of the glass as well. Rusho explained that the thickness, hard-water stains, the age of the glass and the manufacturing techniques used to make the original glass all play into her designs. Rusho also uses different glass-making techniques called fusing, inclusion and slumping to creatively enhance clear glass into beautiful bowls, trays, ornaments and jewelry.

The combinations of glass and technique seem endless to the self-taught Rusho.

"As long as I can think up things," said Rusho, "I never have a shortage of things to try."

Sometimes ideas come from customers who have a special request. One customer collected dirt samples from the places she had traveled and came to Rusho to see if together they could come up with an attractive way to display the samples. In fusing the sand between two pieces of glass in the high temperature of the kiln, the heat killed all the organic matter, making it lose its unique color. The idea wasn't going to work for the customer, but the idea became a springboard for future pieces, including a piece Rusho demonstrated for the HGTV Show, "That's Clever."

Another idea for ornaments came from a woman who wanted her children to be able to have a piece of their childhood home, which was being sold. The windows were being replaced, so the owner brought them to Rusho. Rusho took the windows, broke them into pieces, ran them through "Chewy," a frit-making machine that breaks down 25 pounds of glass in 10 minutes, creating smaller pieces, and continued the multistep breakdown process. Finally, placing the resulting tiny glass pieces into a mold, Rusho placed the mold into the kiln she affectionately calls her "easy-bake oven." After hours of intense firing, Rusho pulled out a beautiful solid glass star ornament. A new idea was born.

Some ides become old. Coasters are the one thing Rusho won't make right now. She's tired of them.

"I despise coasters," said Rusho.

These days, Rusho fashions her glass into imaginative jewelry, functional ware and glass sculpture. Carefully stepping into the back room with small glass pieces crunching underfoot, Rusho offered a peek on her latest experiment with some 3-D pieces in her kiln. Cautiously she lifted the lid of her 900-degree-plus kiln showing off the partially fired pieces she was working on. It would take nearly six days to reach the 1,550 degrees needed to properly fuse the pieces. Rusho hates the waiting, but she has a shelf lined with bowls prematurely removed that serve as a reminder of the importance of waiting long enough and not peeking too often.

"I'm not good at waiting," admits Rusho. "It's a good thing I work at home because first thing in the morning I run downstairs in my pajamas and to check the oven."

Rusho enjoys trying new things and is excited about this 3-D technique. When asked about her favorite project, Rusho replied, "It's the one's that cooking."

Rusho's artwork is available at the following Salt Lake businesses: Evergreen Gallery, Utah Artist Hands, Blue Cockatoo and the Salt Lake City Farmers Market every Saturday.