Many years ago, I taught for a couple of summers at a camp in Connecticut called Buck's Rock.
They were a pretty amazing place, focussing on visual and
performing arts. Performance options included band, orchestra, choir; drama and clowning; there was a radio station and a computer shop. They had a garden, and a farm--complete with a pregnant heifer, guaranteed to calve sometime during the session. They had shops for silkscreen, batik, fibers; intaglio and letterpress printing; painting, drawing, sculpting (with bronze casting), woodworking, ceramics, and hot glass.
Let me repeat that, for emphasis. They had glassblowing
for 8 to 17-year-olds.
I was in ceramics, of course, shop head my second year. But I played around. I joined the choir for the first half of the summer, making up the entirety of the tenor section. Batiked a bandana in pattern of holsteins on fields of green. Printed some cards on the letterpress, using a block I made from bisqued clay. And I wanted to try glassblowing.
wanted to try glassblowing.
The shop only had two adult counselors (plus a seventeen-year-old junior counselor and a couple of fourteen-year-old counselors-in-training), with two work-stations--bench, glory hole, marveling table--so it was more-or-less in constant use by the campers, JC and CIT's. While all the rest of the counselors looked on with longing.
Gus and Steve were saints
. After working all day teaching kids and adolescents, and keeping them from setting themselves on fire, they came back to the shop after put-to-bed to do their own work. They didn't have
to offer lessons to the rest of us at night, but they did. What with the level of demand, we basically got one chance per summer. My first year, I brought home a shot glass. The second year, I made a little squared-globe vase about the size of a baseball.
Glass-blowing was equal parts familiar and foreign, fascinating and terrifying. I very quickly noted similarities to throwing. Heat was analogous to moisture: wet(hot) objects are softer; dry(chill) your piece to make it firmer. You rotate your piece to address all parts uniformly, though the axis of rotation is horizontal, not vertical. Apply and remove force gradually, no abrupt changes. And gravity is always the enemy.
On the other hand, you rotate the piece back and forth, unlike on the wheel. And you form your pot from the inside, with air pressure, then turn it upside down on the punty to shape and finished the lip.
Now fast-forward 26 years.
Denise and I have a tradition, for Valentines Day: we do an art project. We've made mono prints and woodcuts, bound books and made tiles and pulled paper. This year, we blew glass.
Valentines Day was really awkwardly timed this year. February 14 also happened to be Ash Wednesday, so chocolate and fancy dinner were kinda out. The following weekend had a federal holiday, though. Presidents Day gave Denise a three-day weekend, so we went down to the coast for the weekend.
The weather was terrible: rain, sleet, even snow. So we looked for things to do indoors: galleries, bead stores, the aquarium. And I found a glass studio that offered lessons.
Oregon Coast Glassworks is located just as you enter Newport on US 20 from Corvallis. It's an unassuming little blue shed-like structure, with gallery in front, hot shop in back that's about the same size as at Buck's Rock, space for two people blowing, with a little extra room for spectators.
We arrived right at opening Saturday, and got lucky. You normally need a reservation, but they hustled us in before their first scheduled lessons. We each chose a form to make, and a color scheme. The teachers did the initial gather, then showed us how to pick up the bits of colored glass on the marver. We held the pipe and glass in the glory hole, rotating back and forth until it was well melted, twisted the glass on the table, introducing a spiral to the colored bits. The very tip of the gather was pinched off, leaving a bright marble in the scrap bucket, then additional eddies were introduced by twisting the surface with needle-nosed pliers. After another trip to the glory hole, the glass is forced away from the pipe by the edge of the table, then rounded off in the block, a water-soaked wooden cup.
The instructor introduced the first bubble, a quick puff of air trapped in the blowpipe by their thumb on the mouthpiece. Expansion of the air by heat forces it out into the glass. Afterwards, they attached a hose to the mouthpiece, allowing us to inflate the glass while they slowly rotated the pipe to keep the piece on center.
Lastly, the instructor chills the glass at the end of the pipe with a cold file, then separates it with a brisk tap. A dollop of hot glass seals off the end, making a hanging loop (on mine) or a base (for Denise's). Then the piece goes in the annealing oven to slowly cool overnight, for pick-up the next morning.
I didn't get any pictures of Denise working, as I was busy on my own project. Which blew out coming out of the glory hole; apparently the violet opal glass is weaker than the blue and I had too much in one place. A second attempt with a more even distribution of color was much more successful. Denise, bless her, got my phone out to take some pictures, even catching a little bit of video of the pinching and twisting process.