Don Buller, a Sedalia architect and former co-owner of Sammons and Buller from 1961-1991, began an artistic journey after retiring 20 years ago, moving from stained glass to bead and semi-precious stone jewelry to eventually fused glass vessels and three-dimensional wall sculptures.
When he began working with fused glass three years ago, he began with a kiln the size of a half a shoe box. He recently transitioned to a larger kiln making pieces up to 17-inches and then he decided to go bigger. Buller is now making glass art up to 36-inches.
His journey into glass making began 20 years ago when he saw an advertisement in a Kansas City newspaper for a stained glass class.
“I called and I enrolled and took a weekly class for, I believe, three months,” he said. “I bought the tools and bought the glass and enjoyed it very much. I became hooked on stained glass.”
After 15 years he began to have trouble with his back, due to bending over repeatedly to cut the glass. He knew he needed to make a change.
“And so I had to give it up,” he said.
His daughter Shawn Buller, of Miami, Fla., a jewelry artist suggested he try jewelry making.
“She said dad, ‘you like designing, try jewelry you can do that sitting down.’”
She gave him some magazines and some books and he began to read about technique.
“So I took off on that endeavor,” he said. “In my jewelry efforts, I found out that beads and semi-precious stones were being done by many, many people, and so you were just another fish in the pond so to speak.”
Buller eventually found an article on precious metal clays, gold, silver, bronze and copper and he began working with that medium for a time.
“Needless to say gold was out of the question,” he added. “But again, I bought books and I was self-taught. And this required me to have a kiln.”
He said that he found a niche with the metal clays and produced art that was new to the area.
“While I was shopping for materials, and tools for this, I came across some articles on fused glass that was made in a kiln,” he said.
Buller bought some small pieces of glass and began to experiment.
“And that kiln I still have, but it’s about the size of a half a shoe box,” he added. “You can’t do plates and dishes and things like that, so Don has to have a big kiln.”
And so he did. His wife Ruth decided to buy him one for Christmas three years ago.
“It was a 500-pound Christmas present,” he added, laughing.
The new kiln was capable of firing pieces up to 17-inches long and some that were 12-inches square. Evolving further in his glass art, he is now creating work that is 36-inches long, requiring an even larger kiln.
“That did not seem economically feasible to buy one that would be used occasionally,” he said. “And in investigating I changed my source of glass supply to Stained Glass Station … where they have kilns of all sizes.”
The kiln problem was solved by finding a place in Lee’s Summit where he could rent space to fire his work.
At present Buller works mostly from his home workshop creating vessels, platters, woven plates, and three-dimensional wall art all with an architectural feel.
He enjoys giving names to some of his pieces, some christened with dry humor such as “The Scaly Blue Monster from the Slimy Green Lagoon.” The piece, a long platter with individual small squares, depicts what looks like a Loch Ness type creature swirling through water.
Buller still makes fused glass jewelry and he’s also found a niche creating fused glass special order buttons for clients.
Buller said that neighbor Linda Schweimer became a customer two years ago and she keeps bringing customers by. Her latest request was for him to create a pair of buttons for a knit shawl.
“I’ve now made six pair,” he added.
To create some of his vessels or dishes he uses molds and places the glass flat panel over the mold in the kiln. As it fires the glass slumps into the mold, creating an indentation, making a bowl-like feature at temperatures reaching 1,500 degrees.
“It takes 10 to 12 hours to go through a process,” he said. “It heats up very slowly from about 300 degrees up to 1,500 degrees. The cooking time is 15 minutes, and then the cooling off period is another five hours.”
Color wise he likes to work with both earth tones and bright colors.
“When it come to colors I refer to ribbon colors and to earth colors,” he said. “If I’m making things to be sold, I cannot make something I want, because if I do that I won’t sell it, I’ll keep it.”
Buller enter the fine art competition, for the first time, last year at the Missouri State Fair and won an award for a cream and ocher colored 12-by-12-inch fused glass plate titled, “Broken and Healed.”
At present Buller is selling work in downtown Sedalia at Twarkles Furniture Decor and More and at Finds. He has a website FusingGlassWithDon.com, and says pricing on the site reflects fragile packing and shipping costs. For more information on Buller’s work call him at 826-3069.