Last night I took a class in hot glass making, here in Austin at East Side Glass Studio. The cool and fun Leigh Taylor Wyatt and Shara Funari were the fearless leaders of our newbie-to-glass group, which included Josh from Austin’s newest brewery, the East side’s Hops & Grain Brewery; and Richard who is also a writer – he is Mr. Smarty Pants at the Austin Chronicle. Video of my glass working at the bottom of this post – see how it’s done!
So, maybe I have a twisted mind or maybe I’m just demented, but I couldn’t help feeling as if it all sounded like an X-rated movie, as Leigh and Shara explained the process to us and demonstrated the equipment. From the “glory hole” to paddling, poking, keeping it hot, puffing and blowing…sorry. I thought it was funny. All of these terms are the terms used when working with hot glass, and always, always it is back to the glory hole. Named rather unfortunately, in my opinion, but quite amusing.
What is the glory hole, you might wonder? Basically, you’re working with three areas of heat in glass making. First is the pipe heater, a small piece of equipment with a gas torch blowing into it. This is where the pipes are kept, to stay heated; glass will not adhere to cold metal. Next is the furnace, where the molten glass is kept. This is where you begin, gathering the glass you will use for your piece. The third, the glory hole, is the most used however. This is where you reheat the glass as you’re working with it. You come back here, again and again, because the glass cools down rather quickly and as it does, of course it leaves the pliable molten form and becomes harder. You can no longer shape or work it, so you return to the glory hole to melt it back down again.
All joking and dirty innuendos aside, working with hot glass is incredibly fun. I was amazed at how many different creative things you can make, and materials you can use. From small grains of colored glass that you roll the molten class into, to small glass tiles, chips and rods that are used to fuse onto pieces, the possibilities are endless. Shara showed me her newest series, etched drinking glasses. She had been collecting vintage clothing patterns, and after her glass was made she would tape the pattern inside the glass, and then trace it with a diamond-tipped etcher on the outside. Original and groovy!
Shara and Leigh are both very clearly passionate about this work. Shara got started with the art in 2004, in San Antonio; and Leigh in the early 90s in Ohio, New Orleans and Appalachia. In 2006, Shara and Leigh met in San Antonio and their shared love for the art created a bond, and they began working together. They just opened East Side Glass Studio a few weeks ago.
I was thrilled for both of them to show me how to work with the glass, how to get it in and out of the ovens and add color, shaping and molding it. You can twist it, poke air bubbles into it, even cut it with shears. When molten and workable, it feels a little like taffy as you apply the tools to it. Leigh agrees.
“It’s almost alive,” she said. “When I am here, on the floor in the glass studio, I feel the most comfortable in my own skin.”
East Side Glass Studio rocks – through December you can blow your own ornament for $40 (12/3, 12/10 and 12/17). Look at their beautiful Christmas tree with hand-blown ornaments! They also have regular “Hot Glass & Cold Beer” nights where you can check out glass blowing demonstrations and knock back a cold one, courtesy of Hops & Grain Brewery. And classes start up in January! Limited to 3 or 4 students, you can take a one-time experience like I did for $125. You will learn the basic craft and actually make your own piece. Or, take a four-week class that gives you much more technique and hands-on time, on Tuesdays or Saturdays, for $375. Classes include all materials.
Want to see it in action? Short video of my inaugural “glory hole” experience below:
Check it out! And say hello to Leigh and Shara for me…