Nevada City artist and veteran Gabriel White creates artwork from found glass
Special to The Union
Gabriel White was a U.S. Marine Corps Scout Sniper and served two tours in Iraq.
Today, the 34-year-old decorated war veteran scours local rivers and forests for gifts from nature that he turns into magnificent works of art.
“I work with reclaimed glass and wood because of the historical aspect, but also because I like the idea of taking something broken or forgotten and making something beautiful of it,” he explained. “It’s a reminder that nothing is really totally broken, and beauty can come from the most devastated of places.”
The self-taught artist manipulates glass tubing or broken, jagged glass he discovers in nature and turns them into glasswork flows reminiscent of ocean life. He often adds South Yuba River driftwood or reclaimed lumber from old buildings.
“When making a piece, I don’t see the whole thing in my head,” he said. “I had some wood for five years and imagined it in a piece lying down horizontally. Six months ago, I propped it up upright, filled it with clear glass, and added flowers.”
Art beckoned to White when he was young. After high school, he was awarded a Bank of America Industrial Arts Award and a full private scholarship to the San Francisco Academy of Arts.
Instead, even though the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had just begun, White enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2003. The following year, at age 19, he was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, and deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, with a rifle platoon.
White’s unit was tasked with the ultra-dangerous mission of searching houses for enemy personnel and weapons.
“When we took Falllujah, it was just insane,” White recalled. “A lot seen and done. Kicking in a lot of doors. I was the first man in the house, getting in a lot of firefights, going to the next house and then the next house.”
Capturing Fallujah remains the bloodiest battle since the Vietnam War.
White came back to the U.S., but his battalion was scheduled to return to the Iraq. He decided he could best serve as a sniper. He was selected to attend the elite Special Operations Sniper School, where he earned two prestigious awards. One award recognized his highest accumulated scores in camouflage and concealment. He also won the “Instructor’s Choice Award,” presented to the graduating sniper with the best skill set and exemplary leadership.
White’s nomination for the “Instructor’s Choice Award” was the first unanimous decision in history.
Three weeks later, White deployed back to Iraq. He and his team conducted more than 100 missions into enemy territory. Lance Cpl. White was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for intentionally exposing himself to direct enemy fire to immediately eliminate with two shots two insurgents who were attacking his squad.
After 14 months, White returned stateside and married his girlfriend, Kathryn, who had steadfastly supported him during his years of service. The two now have a son and a daughter.
In 2011, the family moved to Nevada City from the Sonoma Valley.
“We were looking around everywhere that offered rivers, lakes, mountains and trails,” said White. “We didn’t know it when we bought it, but our property is just a two-mile hike to Jones Bar.”
Despite his peaceful surroundings, White recognized that he suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress.
“My best friend and I were building a backpacking course for people with PTS,” White recalled. “Then he died in a car accident. His loss was harder to deal with than the 45 soldiers I knew who lost their lives in the war.
“His death triggered my spiral into isolation.”
Just before his friend’s tragic accident, White had taken a 10-hour torch safety class. He immersed himself in glasswork and built a 20-by-40-foot office and studio, adding a kiln, wood lathe, ventilation system, hand tools, oxygen and propane tanks, and two torches.
At first, White sold inexpensive pendants, jars and knickknacks at festivals and concerts. Eventually, the travel became tiresome and he dedicated himself to bigger, more majestic pieces.
He said art is his meditation and therapeutic outlet.
“Art is a process of letting go,” he said. “I’ve made a super cool piece and as I’m taking it to the kiln, it falls and shatters on the ground. Things like that have helped me let go of stuff and live in the moment.”
His art is a work in progress that progresses as he works. For example, he plans to add embedded lighting to some pieces. Others will be mounted to floor planking. Someday, White says he may create furniture.
In October, White will showcase a two-piece sculpture at the Seventh Annual San Francisco Fleet Week Veterans’ Art Exhibit. The sculpture has been two years in the making.
Locally, White’s work is available at Nevada City’s Camelot Gallery. Prices range from $300 to $2,200.
“His delicate floral creations reflect the rare bloom that flourishes in adversity,” says Gallery Manager Sonya Krimsky.
White has a generous heart, and his altruistic endeavors include membership in the Marine Memorial Association and serving as trustee for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2655 in Nevada City. A portion of his art sales are donated to those groups. White is also a free and accepted master Mason and lodge officer, and member of the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team.
“I try to give back to the community and our nation,” he said. “It’s difficult to try to fix the world’s problems. But it’s easy to help fix the world around you.”
LorraineJewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. She can be reached at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.
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