BELFAST — Brian Frus and Stephanie Natale love playing with fire, and the two glass artisans hope others will join them.

Frus and Natale are the new owners of Mainely Gallery, formerly Mainely Pottery, on Route 1 in East Belfast. The pair will offer their own exquisite glasswork, showcases for local artists of all media, and classes for those curious about the process of working with glass.

“People are drawn to it,” said Frus of shaping and sculpting glass. “It’s elegant and elemental.”

Frus and Natale plan to use part of their gallery space for classes in glasswork. They will also offer the space to other artists for classes or discussions on their work. Mainely Gallery will also partner with Waterfall Arts and the Belfast Glass Works to offer classes and educational sessions to local students.

“The energy in this area is amazing and unique,” Natale said. “We’re in the right place.”

Their road to Belfast began, quite randomly, in Jacksonville, Florida, with a map and a dart.

“We were working in Jacksonville during the pandemic,” Natale said. “We needed a lifestyle change for a lot of reasons.”

The two decided that Stephanie would throw a dart at a map of the United States and they would go where the dart landed.

“To be fair,” Natale said with a laugh, “I was aiming for the Northeast.”

The dart landed on Ellsworth, Maine.

“One inch to the right and we’d be living on a houseboat” Frus said. “We packed the kids (daughters Penelope and Juniper), the dog (Maysie), and headed north.”

The family arrived in Ellsworth last fall and immediately began taking day trips to scout for potential gallery space. They discovered Mainely Pottery and purchased it in October 2021.

“We loved everything about it,” Natale said. “It was built with great thought and care.”

At the same time, local glass artists David Jacobson and Carmi Katsir were getting the Belfast Glass Works studio up and running in Waterfall Arts.

“Perfect timing,” said Frus, who has taught art and glasswork classes for the past 13 years. “A (glass) studio with an educational component and open to the community. It was ideal.”

Frus was checking all those boxes recently as he guided three students through their paces at Belfast Glass Works. The facility represents his and Natale’s philosophy regarding art and community.

“Creation, community and commerce,” Frus said. “We want to create, and teach the creation of, art throughout the community, and we also want to give local artists a chance to showcase and sell their work.”

Shows at Mainely Gallery will primarily feature the work of local artists. Frus and Natale are looking to schedule classes and provide space for other artists to host classes as well.

Frus and Natale have transformed Mainely Gallery into a homage to local art. Sculptures adorn lush backyard gardens, detailed glass and pottery pieces are displayed in the galley and shop spaces, and even the family van parked out front is hand-painted.

“It’s not just about glass,” Frus said. “We’ve invited back the potters who used to show here (when it was Mainely Pottery). Stephanie does watercolor paintings as well. Any way you get the community involved with appreciating art is a good thing,” Frus paused before adding, “but glass is pretty special.”

As glass artists, Frus and Natale have two bases of operation. Smaller pieces are created in the gallery studio, at a table and with a torch. Larger works are created in a glass studio, with a kiln, plenty of space. These larger works are usually a team effort.

“The kiln is hot, the (molten) glass is hot,” Frus said. “Safety is the number one priority, but having others helping makes the process more creative, comfortable and efficient.”

Kiln work for glass sculpture is the process most familiar to many. It involves the insertion of a rod into the kiln to collect molten glass, remove it and begin the shaping process. The kiln at Waterfall Arts has the unique distinction of being the only glass kiln powered by vegetable oil, making it eco-friendly.

The shaping process is achieved with the use of tools and cooling techniques. In many cases the artist will shape the work while someone else positions the rod of molten glass or one of the shaping tools.

A pitcher takes shape from its molten beginning with the use of shaping tools. Photo by: Jim Leonard

“It’s very much a dance,” Natale said.

Torch work, or the creation of smaller objects in glass, is more of a solo venture. Table-mounted or handheld torches are used to heat glass rods. The rods are shaped into intricate designs.

“Torch work is very detailed and focused,” Frus said.

Glass Artist Brian Frus works with a handheld torch to design a glass flower petal. Photo by: Jim Leonard

Whether the pieces come from the bench or the kiln, most are placed in an annealing chamber once complete. The chamber allows the pieces to cool more slowly, reducing the possibility of a crack or break.

Mainely Gallery features glass work of all types: jewelry, pendants, vases, bottles, as well as spectacular sculptures — all in various shapes, sizes and colors.

The medium inspires passion.

“I’ve been addicted (to glass work) since my first class,” Natale said. “The properties of glass, the texture, and what you can do with it are incredible.”

Natale also admits to another guilty pleasure.

“I get to play with fire.”