Full of Hot Air

When I was a kid, my grandparents took me to Silver Dollar City for the first time. I don’t remember much about that trip, but I do remember seeing the glassblowers working. They were fascinating! Little did I know I was watching the man who would one day teach me how to blow glass.

I met Terry Bloodworth many years ago when he was participating in ArtsFest on Walnut Street. I bought a paperweight from him and several more pieces throughout the years. I always admired his work and we became friends. I mentioned my desire to learn glassblowing and he said he’d love to have me in a class at his studio, Springfield Hot Glass. Last December, while killing time at WinterFest, I was chatting with him and finally made the decision to take a class once the holiday season ended. Unfortunately, Terry’s a popular guy and I couldn’t get in until last weekend, but it was worth the wait.

I arrived at 9 a.m. on Saturday and wasn’t sure what to expect. At Terry’s recommendation, I wore jeans, a long-sleeved shirt and boots. I brought safety glasses and a notebook in case I needed to take notes (Steve made fun of me for that one!). I guess it’s just the student in me who wanted to be prepared. Terry introduced me to the other student, Tom, who was on his fourth class. Terry explained that he normally doesn’t pair a beginner with an advanced student, but he was pretty sure I would have no problem picking up the routine. I think his confidence level in me was higher than my own at this point! Terry gave me a brief tour of the studio, introduced me to the tools and we were off!

Tom went first so I could see how things progressed. Terry is an amazing teacher; patient, informative, calm and ready to take over when things got beyond our control. As I watched Tom make his first piece I began getting impatient for my turn. This was going to be fun. Now it was my turn. First was the gathering of glass from the glass kiln. I knew it would be hot, the temperature was 2079 degrees, but I wasn’t prepared for the intense heat I encountered. Thank goodness Terry was there to help guide my blow pipe into the kiln because it was very intimidating!

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Next, we took the glass to a table called a Marver to form it and get it ready for the first blow. Things move quickly because we’re racing against the glass cooling and the pipe must be rotated constantly to keep the glass on axis. I moved from the Marver to the horizontal blow station for a “roll and blow” to make my first bubble.

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From there the glass goes into the heating kiln, or “glory hole” as it’s called, for a reheat. Again, the pipe is being rotated the entire time. After the reheat, we repeated the entire Marver and blow, then I picked up another round of glass in the glass kiln. Now the pipe was starting to feel heavy. Although it didn’t look like I had much glass on the end, keeping it horizontal and rotated was getting a bit tiring. I did another round of blowing and was beginning to see my ornament form. It’s amazing how exhausting and exhilarating it is at the same time. Glass blowing produces almost instant results which is very satisfying. I finished my first piece in about 40 minutes and Terry took put it in an annealing kiln where it would slowly cool for the next 12 hours. I flopped down in a chair, drank a bunch of water and watched Tom make his second piece.

When it was my turn again, Terry explained that I would be making a total of five pieces in a particular order which would introduce me to different tools and techniques. The second piece, a paperweight, would require no blowing, but would allow me to work with color and learn how to shape it with wood tools. It was so much fun to make! When I got done with my paperweight, I remember thinking it was the kind of thing I’d love to make over and over again. Then I made a tumbler and that quickly changed my mind about paperweights! Opening a piece and forming the rim is just too cool! It’s also very intimidating (there’s that word again) because my hand was just about 2 inches from the hot glass. Here’s a picture from day two where I’m forming the top of a vase. You can see how close I am. Terry’s holding wet paper to help form the outside of it.

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During the afternoon, Terry’s son Gabe arrived to help teach the rest of the day. They tag-team the classes so neither of them has to sacrifice their entire weekend at work. Gabe was also an amazing teacher and it was obvious the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. It was fun to work with two different instructors and learn different methods from them. I finished Saturday with a total of five pieces: a clear ornament, paperweight, tumbler, bowl and vase. I was feeling pretty good about the work I’d done and was excited to see what day two would hold for me. Tom was great to have in class and I learned a lot just from watching him and the techniques he was working on as an advanced student.

I admit, on Sunday morning, I was not sure I wanted to spend my entire day working again. I wanted some time at home to drink coffee and read the paper. That feeling disappeared as soon as I started my first piece of the day. Gabe started the class and patiently (very patiently) reintroduced me to the steps. He learned that I like knowing what’s coming next so I can mentally plan for my move. I started off making a simple vase and concentrating on the form and the steps involved in the process. Tom graciously shared his lime green transparent glass with me and encouraged me to coat it with an iridescent spray when it was done. He said it would be an outstanding piece. Gabe and I worked on the vase and things were progressing nicely when I started having some trouble with the neck and lip. Unfortunately, the piece cooled too much and, when it went back into the glory hole, the neck broke off. Guess it’s time to make it a bowl! Gabe explained that these things happen almost daily and it’s all a matter on salvaging and seeing what you can do instead. Turns out, the piece made a gorgeous bowl so I didn’t really care!

By the time 4 p.m. rolled around I was getting tired and it was beginning to show. I was on my sixth piece of the day and I wasn’t producing the amount of air I needed to make the vase as fat as I wanted it. I told Terry (who had replaced Gabe by then) that I thought I was in good shape until I took this class! He said it was a different kind of workout and that my fatigue wasn’t unusual at that time of day. My last piece ended up being a little thinner than I’d planned, but it was nice anyway.

If you’ve read this far in this extremely long post, you’re probably wondering where the photos of my finished pieces are. Well, I pick then up this afternoon and will post them later so check back tonight or tomorrow. I’d like to thank Terry and Gabe for a great weekend! If you’ve ever thought about blowing glass, I highly recommend Springfield Hot Glass Studios for classes. They are terrific!

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Full of Hot Air

  1. Pamela Witte

    How very cool! I remember the glassblowers at SDC, too, and I never wanted to stick around too long. It was like the blacksmith’s–stinky, hot, and usually loud. Now I want to investigate!

  2. I have been interested in this as well, since the early days at SDC too! I found the whole process fascinating and besides the taffy place, the glass place was my fav. Have you thought about lampworking some beads – and incorporating them into your jewelry? I love to watch Kathy make those down there. In time, I too, will get this in, it’s on my to-do list! Can’t wait to see your finished stuff. What a great weekend.

  3. Viki

    I really want to get Jake into those classes. He’s been working with a glass blower for over two years now. Our apartment is full of glass stuff! I’ve always loved glass work. 🙂

  4. Believe it or not, I’m completely uninterested in lampworking. I told Terry I wanted to learn glassblowing but not any lampworking. He normally makes students start at the torch doing beads, but let me through since I’d had experience with tools and torches.

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