Gini Garcia always thought she was going to be a doctor. Before entering the world of glassblowing at age 30, Garcia never imagined she would bring beauty to the world and joy to others through swirls of colored glass.
"I was going to be a doctor like my father," said Garcia, who moved from Monterrey, Mexico, to San Antonio with her family at the age of 5. Now 53, she is president and chief creative officer of Garcia Art Glass in Southtown. "I was a pre-med/biology major at St. Mary's University, and then after a couple of years I decided that it wasn't really the right thing for me."
She now has glass creations all over the world, and Garcia Art Glass will soon have a presence on national television.
In late January or early February, the family company will be featured on CNBC's Billion Dollar Buyer.
Each episode features small business owners who compete for the opportunity to partner with billionaire hospitality mogul Tilman Fertitta. His company, Landry's Inc., supplies goods to more than 50 restaurants, hotels, and entertainment brands.
UPDATE: The Jan. 31 episode featuring Gini Garcia Glass, in which she signs a $200,000 deal with Fertitta, is available online here.
"CNBC came and filmed us in October and November," Gini said. "You get an opportunity to make a deal with him, so small businesses around the country supply one of his businesses with something new, such as leather bags to put in his stores or linen sheets to put on the beds of the resorts in the suites. (Fertitta) came here and we did a demo for him; we made little oil candle holders."
Her success was nurtured by her mother, Dora Garcia, who encouraged her to think about interior design after Gini abandoned plans to become a doctor.
"My mother was very supportive that I had this thing with color," Gini said. "I would paint my bedroom a different color every two weeks and dress colorfully – it was that kind of thing."
After Gini enrolled at San Antonio College (SAC), she fell in love with three-dimensional design and got an associate degree in sculpture. During her second year at SAC, "after not ever (having) been creative in college or high school," Gini got a scholarship to the Kansas City Art Institute, where she earned a degree in industrial design. Gini also holds degrees in set design and environmental design.
It wasn't until she met an art glass collector at a ranch in Utopia, Texas, and walked into the New Orleans School of Glassworks one Christmas break that she encountered glassblowing for the first time. Watching the unique technique, which involves using a blowpipe to inflate molten glass into a bubble and then sculpting it to create intricate and colorful designs, enthralled her.
"I’d never seen it done before, even as a designer in art school," she said. "I fell in love with the whole idea, and three months later I went back there to take classes."
Gini never looked back.
A Family Affair
Gini opened Garcia Art Glass in 1998 in Boerne with the help of a $60,000 loan from Dora, who now serves as vice president of the company. The operation evolved into a full-on family business when Gini brought on her sister, Dora Elia Garcia, to head production and her niece, Claudia Esparza, to direct sales and marketing. In 2001, they found the property on 715 S. Alamo St. and relocated. Today, Garcia Art Glass boasts a second location – strictly a gallery – inside the Hyatt Regency Hotel on the River Walk.
"And here we are 18 years later," Dora Elia said. "Aquí seguimos."
Esparza showed the Rivard Report several glass creations, from flat glass platters on the wall to more fluted ones which serve as center pieces. Jewelry, classic Virgin Mary figures, and engraved awards are other customer glass favorites, Esparza said.
"Gini works with the clients on the large-scale designs. She's the creative behind everything that we do," Esparza explained. "Then she gives the designs to my mom Dora (Elia), who really interprets these drawings into glass. She is the color specialist and manages the production on a day-to-day basis. You think every color goes together, but colors actually react differently to heat.
"My grandmother Dora is 85 now, and she comes to work six days a week," she added. "She wants to – we cannot keep her away."
Specializing in everything from functional to whimsical, the team at Garcia Art Glass creates hand-blown art that adds a unique flair to a variety of environments. Her pieces have garnered Gini many awards and accolades and have taken her all over the world to create commissioned works and transform spaces.
In 2011, Garcia Art Glass had the honor of constructing a glass chandelier for the city of Dresden, Germany, two years after San Antonio signed a pact to make it a Sister City.
"I went to Dresden to talk to the mayor and tell him about a concept, and we installed it around May 2012," Gini said. "It was in this beautiful castle on the shores of the Elbe river."
The Art of Glassblowing
"Glass has been around for more than 2,000 years, but it was the Romans (who) figured out that you could actually blow the glass," Gini said. "... If you look at art history and you look at paintings from the Roman Empire, you'll see people with glasses. All of these materials were more precious than gold because they were so rare."
Garcia Art Glass Master Glassblower Gerardo Muñoz, 62, learned all about glassblowing or vidrio soplado for the first time in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco when he was 14 years old. He has been working at Garcia Art Glass for 10 years, along with his 32-year-old son Edgar, who is also a maestro soplador.
"The kind of glass we make here is crystal," Muñoz said in Spanish. "I learned to work with recycled glass with Armando Abundis Rodriguez, the owner of Vidrio Típico Abundis factory. He was one of vidrio soplado pioneers in Guadalajara, Mexico."
Recycled glass and crystal are two very different things, Muñoz added. The crystal he uses at Garcia Art Glass is grade 96 – the same as the kind used in Murano, Italy.
It was the Muranese, or the people of Murano, Gini said, who figured out that if you add borax to glass, it makes it clear.
"All of a sudden you have Murano glass, which is the first crystal clear glass that (was) brought into the world," she said.
This kind of glass is much harder than recycled glass, Muñoz explained. "Crystal is totally white, whereas recycled glass has more green and blue tones. To melt it you need 1,100 degrees centigrade. When it cools is when it picks up its hardness."
To create a multi-color piece, different colors from colored glass are smeared out in the design through heat. In order for glass to change its color, various metals and metal oxides are added to the mix. Metal oxides burn at different temperatures, and thus, give off different colors. If the glass cools too quickly, it will crack and break. To avoid this, the glass creation is placed in an annealer, a furnace that helps the glass cool properly over a period of 16 hours.
But it isn't just the history of glassmaking and the process that makes a glass creation come alive that motivate Gini to get up every day and do the work she loves. It's something much more powerful.
"It's being a vessel for God's glory," she said. "God has given me the opportunity to use me as his tool to bring beauty ... to bring happiness to others through glass. It's a spiritual experience to be able to do this."
In 2011, a client asked Gini to interpret heaven in a ceiling project.
"I get these projects that (make me think): How could they not be that intensely profound and how could they not come from God above? This is what God wants me to be doing ... it's just walking with God throughout my life."