I huffed and puffed yet didn’t inhale while putting my hot air to work during a glassblowing session at Sunspots Studios in Staunton, Va. Travel is about pushing boundaries and there’s an element of danger in being so close to furnaces topping out at temperature of 2,000+ °F. Alright, this visit to Staunton wasn’t like my trip to Afghanistan but there was a similar thrill of living on the edge knowing one misstep or inhale could mean injury. Yet, precautions are in place and the activity is safe for kids five years and older. I just loved seeing orange, liquid glass morphed into a beautiful piece of fragile art.
Receiving a consultation with a glassblower was like having a consultation with my hairstylist.
“Would you like to make a globe or a pumpkin?” a woman at Sunspots Studio asked followed by, “Opaque, regular or glow-in-the-dark?” in reference to the type of ornament I wanted to create.
Next up was the consultation with glassblower Seth Hendrick who like many creative-types, has a bit of a confident swagger and friendliness about him to put you at ease. Peering over what looked like dark sunglasses and what I can assume to be protective eye wear, he asked, “What colors do you like?”
Although I had a romantic image of grabbing the blowpipe (a metal tube), dipping it in the furnace to pull out man-made lava then blowing into a rubber hose to create priceless art, Mr. Hendrick did most of the heavy lifting and fire dancing. The glass artist handed me a plastic mouthpiece in which I dutifully unwrapped. It was my tool to mold my fragile masterpiece and would need it later on in the process. One problem. I couldn’t figure out which end I was supposed to blow into.
Minor details, right? I was only dealing with a bajillion-degrees of heat. Well, I wasn’t exactly dealing with the heat. I could feel the bajillion degrees, which can range between 1,600 to 2,400 °F, while watching the glassblower do his thing.
Watching him maneuver was like watching a graceful dance performance. Taking the blowpipe, Mr. Hendrick dipped it a furnace and pulled out what looked like an orange, glowing cotton swab tip. It was the glass in liquid form, ready to be crafted. I was mesmerized watching him glide from furnace to a metal counter to another furnace while molding and forming the glowing glob into a piece of beautiful art.
During his stops at the metal counter, he dipped the man-made lava into small glass shards then rolled the tube back and forth, ensuring the shards were evenly distributed into the liquid cotton swab tip. These glass shards contained the pigment for the colors I selected.
Into the furnace it went again until finally he attached a long rubber hose to the end he had been holding. After figuring out how to affix the disposable plastic tip, he instructed me to blow into it.
I paused and hesitated. Oh, boy. I was scared.
Why? Because prior to that day, I had heard glassblowers lecture on the dangers of inhaling which would cause the lungs to burn.
Concentrating, I kept telling myself to “only exhale, only exhale, don’t inhale with the tip in your mouth!” As I blew into the tip, my breath rushed through the rubber hose, in through the blowpipe and into the glob of glass.
Mr. Hendrick was manipulating the glob as it inflated (with my breath!) by rolling it and using what looked like a giant pair of heavy-duty pliers. He told me when to stop and when to “give it a little more.” I was afraid in giving it “a lot more” because I didn’t want all that hard work to pop like a balloon. I don’t know if that’s even possible but in mind, it was.
When it reached the desired size and was perfectly round, he told me stop and remove the plastic tip from the rubber hose. We then moved to a table where he grabbed another glob of man-made lava to affix it to the top of the ornament, stretched it like taffy and brought the end back to the globe to form a loop so it could be hung.
After giving it a final look over, he placed it in what looked like a giant freezer to cool and I hoped it wouldn’t crack during the process.
When I received the ornament, it was perfect! What’s mind-blowing is my breath is forever encapsulated in a sphere of glass art and that’s pretty cool.
Have you ever given glassblowing a try?
202 S Lewis St.
Staunton, VA 24401
Tel: (540) 885-0678