- Medium: Glass pendants and sculpture
- About the artist:
Published in the LeRoy Independent, Thursday, April 7, 2011, page 18
Werth was lost then found in LeRoy, Minnesota
by Ginger Holm
If you're going to get lost somewhere, LeRoy, Minnesota is a good place to do it, according Don Werth.
Werth is originally from a small town in Kansas called McCraken. A blacksmith by trade, Werth was working in Minnesota and had just finished a job in the Twin Cities. Little did he know his life was about to change forever.
"I had just finished some work up in St. Paul and was in between jobs. I got lost, literally, and I ended up at Lake Louise State Park,'' He explained. ''I didn't really have anywhere to go, so I pulled in there and stayed for a few days, and I met the park ranger. He offered me a job clearing trails and cleaning the campgrounds, and that's how I ended up here.''
When park management was given to Forestville a few years ago, the park ranger was transferred, and Werth was out of a job. It would have been a good time for Werth to head back to Kansas, but he decided to stay in LeRoy.
"I got to know several people around here. I really like the people and I love the park, so I stayed,'' explained Werth.
He found a new job working in a welding shop in Albert Lea. It was a temporary position, and he worked there a year before accepting a job at McNeilus in Riceville, where he still works today.
Getting lost in LeRoy, Minnesota meant Werth found a new home, new friends and a brand new hobby.
''I watched a PBS story on glassblowing and there was this guy with this long steel pipe and he had this huge glob of glass on this pipe and he's blowing it," said Werth. ''He had the thing up in the air and down here and he opened up the end and he was spinning it and he took two sticks and worked it into the perfect clam shell.''
Werth was intrigued by the art of glassblowing and thought he would like to give it a try.
"I was talking to a couple friends and they told me about Dave's store and that he does glass working,'' said Werth, speaking of Dave Perkins, owner of the Creative Arts Center in LeRoy.
"I introduced myself to Dave and asked if he'd teach me and he said $10 per lesson. I happen to have these huge propane tanks from my blacksmithing days. He needed one for his glasswork, so we worked out a trade, and that's how I got started.''
Werth started out making small birds like cardinals and blue jays.
''Bluejays are my favorite, 'cause they're so eye-catching . . . all the colors on the wings," said Weith. ''I started with small birds and graduated to a bigger size. The last bird I made was a cockatoo almost 12 inches high. I put it inside of a real bird cage and it sold pretty fast. I got $80 dollars for it.''
"The hardest thing for me is to figure out what to sell things for, because I'm just doing this as a hobby. I've got a full-time job, but you have to get enough to pay for the materials you put into it."
Perkins says Werth, who began glass working less than a year ago, has a natural talent that brings a unique artistic view to the Center.
''It's been fun watchjng someone pick up glass working so quickly. He's got a lot of natural artistic talent and is working on the technique,'' said Perkins. ''He's got a distinctly different view of things, which gives the store more variety.''
Werth, who has never had any formal art training, except for the instruction under Perkins, said he visualizes the piece in his head and then is able to translate that vision into the physical work.
"l grew up on a farm, so I was always around animals--cats and dogs and horses and chickens and geese," said Wert. "All my life I was around animals, so that's how I know the animals' anatomy. I can just see what it looks like in my head."
Wert showed an interest in creating as a young boy. When he was about 11 years old, his grandfather gave him his first pocket knife.
"I went straight to whittling sticks--mostly just making points on the sticks - but that evolved into carving," said Wert. "The first thing I tried to carve was an Indian head, like the Indian head penny, which was a big thing back then. I had that pocket knife until the time I was 21 or 22 years old. I carved horses and mountain men faces, so that probably helped me with this."
Wert has learned a lot in the short time he has been working in glass.
"I have a tendency to start out big and then get smaller, so the first horse I did was a full body horse," said Wert. "Of course, not knowing anything yet, I used all full color, so that horse is extremely expensive - there's about $40-$50 worth of glass in it. Clear glass is very inexpensive compared to colored. My horses now are better than that one, but that will be the most expensive horse I'll ever make because it's pure color."
From the very small town of McCraken, Kansas, to the slightly bigger town of LeRoy, Minnesota, Werth's travels have proven getting lost can be a great way to find new friends and adventure.
Wert's creations can be viewed at the Creative Arts Center on Main Street in LeRoy.