Bright and tiny lights

Glassybaby votives light up Seattle winters — and spirits too
Kimberly Brown Seely

Waving a butane lighter like a wand, Lee Rhodes lights another round of votive candles at her Greenlake glassblowing studio. Each votive sits inside a chubby glass goblet called a Glassybaby. The goblets are arrayed before us on a pine table; we're lighting them just to gauge the full effect of their glow. Rhodes illuminates one after another until the table is completely covered with glowing orbs of color.

It's mesmerizing. Handblown in Rhodes's 4,000-square-foot studio, Glassybaby is available in more than 53 different shades: a deep saturated orange, a pale cerulean blue, a sugary lemon yellow, and greens to match every plant in your garden. Made of three layers of glass, each vessel has a solid, substantial weight. It's tempting to pick one up and run your fingers over its cool, smooth surface. "You've got to light every one of them, because you never know which you'll end up liking most," Rhodes says. And so we do.

In a world of vanilla-scented candles and a dizzying assortment of votives and candleholders in which to put them, it's refreshing to step into the Glassybaby studio. Rows of the simple glass vessels, arranged artfully by color, line the shelves of a white-pine display hutch. Big glass windows overlook the "hot shop" below, where Rhodes's crew of artisan glassblowers fire about 90 Glassybaby a day. Pearl Jam pounds on the sound system, making the brick-floored studio (the old Vitamilk building) feel as much like a cool place to hang out as an exciting place to shop.

The other cool thing about Glassybaby is the story behind its creation. While Rhodes was battling her third round of cancer (she was first diagnosed when the youngest of her three children was 2 months old), she arranged for her then-husband to take glassblowing lessons. She fell for his very first project: colorful glass cups. "They were simple and beautiful," she says. "I'd put candles in them and loved the way they looked."

During her five-year recuperation period, she also discovered that the flickering orbs of colored light had a healing effect. "When I was sick, it was chaos," she says. "I had three young kids, two dogs, a turtle, a rabbit, chemo ... It was just really hard to take 45 minutes and relax." The votives, which she began calling Glassybaby, helped.

Smitten with the spirit-lifting qualities of the light, Rhodes signed up for glassblowing lessons herself as soon as she recovered. Before long, she was giving Glassybaby as gifts, then selling them to friends out of her garage. Knowing that glassblowing wasn't a great hobby for a lung-cancer survivor, she hired a glassblower to make them for her, and soon developed a neighborhood cult following. "We were a hot 98112 item," she quips, referring to her Madison Park zip.

Ever since the Glassybaby store opened just steps from the Greenlake walking path in late 2004, business has grown into a steady word-of-mouth stream. (A sidewalk placard out front reads: Flowers wilt. Chocolates melt. Glassybaby forever. Aside from that messaging, Rhodes has done no advertising.) Glassybaby orbs grace tables at Seattle restaurants like Wild Ginger, Monsoon, and Nishino, and at $35 each, they make great gifts.

"Any house can absorb 100 of these, easily," Rhodes says. "People start with 3, then they want a dozen, then it's 18. They're really addictive."

Info: To purchase, visit Glassybaby (10–5 Mon–Sat; 435 N.E. 72nd St.) or order at 206/568-7368.