When I was a kid, I went to Jamestown and sat fascinated while watching the re-enactors blow glass.
While at a wedding in Las Vegas, at the Bellagio, I stood under the Chihuly chandelier transfixed.
When I worked in a student art gallery as a student, a piece broke off an organic, hand-formed piece of glass art. I kept it and still have it. I was amazed at the texture and color.
Years later in Venice, I marveled at the glass creations on display from nearby Morano.
The heat, danger and magic made me wonder what it would be like to work with it.
In recalling this collection of experiencing, I realized that glass has always been so interesting to me. In my labs we have a word for this, wonderspot: a thread of curiosity into which you can get lost while learning, reading, thinking about and doing.
Glass is a wonderspot for me.
For my recent birthday, I asked for a glass blowing experience at the Morean Art Center in Saint Pertersburg. The timing was perfect as my husband and I were going to spend a few weeks bumming around the area while our kids attended camp.
For $75 I workers with a glass smith and learned how to make a paper weight. I chose this project from several options because it allowed the glass worker (me!) to actually manipulate the glass. I have always wanted to dig into molten glass and explore its viscosity.
My guide, Michelle, was very thorough in explaining every step of what we were going to do. I was overwhelmed and wondered if I would have to remember it all. But she prompted me before each step.
She put the “gather” (the clear glass to start with) on the rod. It was a bit tricky getting the gather to stick in the right way. Then the rod was handed over to me and I shaped the first part with a water soaked fruitwood mold. I rolled it back and forth as little sparks flew off the mold. She added more gather and we rolled it again.
Then, Michelle heated up what we had created so far and handed it to me. This was a fun part. I took the drippy glass, rolling the rod back and forth between my fingers try to keep the melted glass somewhat centered. I walked it over to a table and dipped the hot glass into “frit” (chopped up pieces of colored glass). It was like dipping an ice cream cone into sprinkles. Then, I would melt the frit into the glass by holding and rolling the rod and glass in a kiln (called the glory hole) that was a few thousand degrees. It was hot and I had to wear special goggles so I could look into the kiln and watch my work. This process took a while. Add frit, melt on, add more frit etc.
Finally, when we had added a lot of color, Michelle heated up the orb super hot and then brought it to me and I used a pair of scissors to poke and pull the glass into swirls and shapes. We had to keep reheating it because it cooled down quickly. I think I enjoyed this part the most. It is interested to note at this point I had no idea what the final piece would look like because the colors were so hot they were all glowing orange.
After the colors were manipulated enough, we dipped the piece back into the clear glass, shaped it and scored the neck so I could pop it off. When it was removed it went into a heated kiln to anneal (cool slow enough that it would not crack). I was able to pick it up the next day.
And I urge you, if you are interested in glass blowing to look for a hot shop in your area. It is well worth a drive a little cash to work with such an amazing medium. I am already trying to plan another experience.
An excellent cultural history of glass - How We Got to Now - Glass.