Editor's Note: This is the latest in a series of posts featuring local moms and dads in our Made by Mom and Dad Gift Guide.
Harrison Harper has always been creating something. As a kid, he spent a lot of time painting and drawing. By his teens and early 20s, he was searching for other art forms and eventually landed on glass blowing.
Today, the stay-at-home dad spends his days caring for his toddler at home in Johnston County. When his wife returns from her day job, he travels up to Cedar Creek Gallery in Creedmoor to create glass vases, bowls, ornaments, pumpkins and other items several nights each week.
"I'm sitting there all night and next thing I know it's one in the morning and I just want to do more," Harper said.
Harper started learning the craft when he was 23 or so, first as a helper for a Raleigh glassblower. In his spare time, he made little glass trinkets like penguins on ice. His first teacher moved on and Harper hooked up with artists at Cedar Creek Gallery - Matt Decker and Lisa Oakley, the gallery's owner who opened the first hot glass art studio in eastern North Carolina.
There he transitioned from lampworking, where artists use a torch to melt cold glass, to offhand glass blowing, where artists use a blowpipe and hot glass. Harper started out as a helper in the studio.
"I picked it up as I went along," he said. "It turns out I really like working with hot glass."
Harper said he's drawn to the physicality of the art form, which requires him to sit in extremely hot studios where furnaces keep the glass at high temperatures. One wrong move or a tool that's too cool can shatter an evening's work. There's constant movement, he said. He's not relaxed until the glass or bowl or other piece that he's working on is safely in the box.
"Working with this, it's pretty much got to happen all right there when you're doing it," he said. "It's intense in the studio."
Starting in 2006, Harper began working as a full-time glass blower, selling items in the gallery's shop and still helping out his fellow artists. Two years ago, when his daughter was born, he stepped back to be home with her.
He and his wife, who were together for a decade before they married three years ago, had talked about one of them staying home once kids came along. Being an artist, Harper knew his job had more flexibility than his wife's career. And the timing worked out perfectly, he said.
"I felt like I'd learn what I needed to learn [to be a glassblower] before the child," he said.
Now that the initial and exhausting first months are over, Harper said he's finding some balance between his two worlds.
"Never in my life or wildest dreams did I think I'd be a stay-at-home dad," he said. "I've found my balance of not being too tired to help her grow and not being too tired to go to work."
These days, he heads to the studio three to four nights a week to work. He continues to take classes to hone his craft and learn new skills. Some of his pieces are sought after at the gallery. And he has plans to add to his collection and create other items.
"It's almost addicting," he said of his work. "It's the one thing that I care about other than the family."