My glass blowing adventure began early this afternoon when Rachael and I met Wes at the glass blowing studio on his father’s property just outside of my hometown of Princeton. After chatting awhile outside, Wes invited me into the studio to get our project underway. Together we entered the studio’s worn, grey metal door and stepped foot into a space littered with shelves and tables of glass vessels in various states of completion. A massive furnace positioned near the studio’s back wall whirred from a constant flame of burning gas, which filled the space with stuffy, hot air that immediately struck me.
I walked over to his location as he threw open the furnace door, revealing a huge glowing mass resting in a chamber surrounded by intense flame. Scalding heat rolled over every exposed part of my body as Wes explained the glowing mass was an immense ball of liquefied glass from which we would pull the material for our work. Weighing the foreign environment, the unknown tools, and the glowing 2,000 degree medium before me I felt nervousness building. I trusted Wes and his guidance, but for the first time I realized the dire consequences that would come of any rookie mistake I made during the process. With my heart rate increasing, Wes closed the furnace door and turned toward me. “Alright, you ready for this?” he said with a hint of enthusiasm. Doing my best to dismiss the sense of hesitation building in me, I looked at the furnace containing the crucible of molten glass one more time before letting out a subdued, “Yeah…”
Wes placed the now-empty metal rod into a bucket at the corner of the room and pulled another out of the smallest furnace. It's tip glowing from exposure to extreme heat, Wes moved the rod toward the largest furnace as he flung the door open again. "I'm going to gather some glass and then hand it to you, ok?" he said as he plunged the rod into the center of the molten glass orb at the center of the furnace. "Go sit down and grab the small block" he continued as I backed toward the work bench with my eyes fixed on the furnace. I fumbled through the tools half submerged in a tank of water attempting to determine which tool I needed. Finally, I grabbed the handle of a small wooden tool with a cupped block at the end. I lifted it out of the water and asked cautiously, "This one?" Wes nodded his head and turned toward me with a glowing ball of glass perched on the end of the metal rod. He set the rod across the rack directly in front of me and lifted my hand toward the glass until the inside of the wooden tool wrapped around it. Together we rolled the pipe of the rack forming the glass into a smooth tear-like shape as heat pummeled our hands and arms. Moments later, I struggled to keep the glass on center as Wes turned more control of the movement over to me. Focusing intently on my movements, I almost failed to recognize the glass had cooled and hardened to a point it could no longer be manipulated. Just as I began to realize the limitations of the material, Wes grabbed the rod and placed it into the cylindrical furnace to heat it once again.
|Starting with the basics|
Wes and I worked together, repeating all of the steps he showed me earlier when he was making the first piece of the day. Throughout the experience he guided my hands and directed my movements, slowly turning more control of the work over to me as I gained more comfort with the tools and the material. Eventually, Wes had me heating the glass in the cylindrical furnace and moving the rod to and from the work bench. He directed me to blow air into the glass as needed, which felt like blowing into a stubborn balloon. In time, the piece of glass I was working with began to resemble a vase without a top, albeit a slightly lopsided one.
We continued with Wes walking me through the process of flipping the enclosed piece of glass to its opposite side by connecting it to another heated rod. For the first time, I was left at the work bench in complete control of the loose mass of liquid glass as Wes prepare the transfer rod. Seconds later, the vessel had shifted further to one side than I intended. With the tip of the transfer rod orange with heat, Wes quickly directed me to let gravity put the glass back on center. I rotated the pipe and watched the glass slowly sink back to an equalized form. "Start spinning" Wes said firmly. I rotated the rod across the rack in one full rotation before Wes said, "Alright, stop" and pressed the transfer rod into the direct center of the now balanced piece of glass. With a few file marks on my end of the piece and some light taps on the rod in my hands, the glass piece broke cleanly away from my rod and raised upward now stuck to the rod in Wes' hands.
|Glass blowing pipes at the ready|
In seconds I could see the top of the vessel start widening in the furnace. It expanded outward far beyond the base rapidly as I spun. Wes quickly directed me to pull the rod out of the fire and dangle the glass toward the floor. He guided me, making small sudden rotations to the rod as the glass cooled. Before my eyes the top of the vase began to fold in at points, making smooth rounded waves at the vessel's opening that mimicked the petals of a tulip in full bloom. Amazingly, Wes's direction had turned the vessel back into a centered piece with a beautiful appeal that made it anything but ordinary. In seconds, he turned my lopsided, goofy vase into a centerpiece vase suitable for any bouquet of flowers. As I came to terms with what I just saw, Wes grabbed the rod from my hands and made his way to the cooling container. He placed the vase into the chamber and placed the empty metal rod into the bucket in the corner. "That one was for fun. Now, let's do the real thing" Wes said smiling.
|Forming the vessel|
Finally, I sat, slowly turning the rod across the rack at the work bench staring at a hardened piece of cooling glass. All of the colors we had worked with started to appear as the orange glow faded from the work and we prepared to place the vessel in the cooling chamber. I couldn't believe what I had just helped create as Wes closed the lid of the container now containing our glass vessel. Excited, I asked Wes how long it would be until I could see the completed piece. He explained the piece had to cool down to room temperature inside the container over a 24 hour period, which meant I wouldn't be able to see it for some time given my forthcoming trip back to Madison. Now, I wait in anticipation to see our completed piece of art from my first glass blowing experience.
|Almost there... The blue is starting to show through|
Today presented me an opportunity to experience something unlike anything else I have done in my life. Wes and his father are truly masters of their craft (check them out here) unlike any others in the industry. I'm just lucky to know, and now learn from such talented people. I don't know when I will get the chance to blow glass again, but this is something I would do in a heartbeat if the opportunity presented itself. It is a creative outlet unlike any other, and I'm grateful I had the chance to gain such a unique experience.
|One week later... The finished product!|