When Senor Ping and I led a student tour in Italy we were treated to a glass blowing demonstration in Venice. It was amazing to watch and something I never thought I would have an opportunity to try. When we arrived in Mesa, Loreen asked me if I was interested in taking a class in glass blowing and I jumped at the chance. Four of us from Val Vista spent 3 hours with a glass blower for a beginner class in glass blowing.
First we made flowers, which do not involve any blowing. We started by "gathering" the molten glass on a pipe. I know it sounds easy, but first you have to stick a long pipe into a furnace which is at about 2400 F, pick up enough glass and then you have to keep the pipe turning as you take it out of the furnace and move to the bench, again turning the pipe constantly so the glass doesn't fall off. And while you are keeping the pipe turning you use long pliers to pull the glass which has the consistency of very, very stiff taffy. In Venice the glass blower made a horse.....I'm not there yet!!!!
When we had "mastered" the first step we moved to making glass ornaments and adding color to the glass. This involved gathering on a blow pipe and then rolling the glass on a marver (a thick sheet of steel). When you add the colored glass (called frit) it goes back into another furnace called the "glory hole" and is reheated. Next you need to blow into the pipe and create a bubble. Oh, and did I mention you need to keep the pipe turning the entire time so the glass doesn't droop or fall off or any of those other disasters that might just happen. We discovered that even a small glass ornament requires team work, and we took turns blowing into the pipe while others used tools called jacks and diamond sheers.
All completed pieces of glass are put into a "lehr", another type of furnace that is used to cool the glass slowly over many hours. The time flew by quickly and before we knew it the class was over. Hopefully I will have another opportunity to learn more about the art of glass blowing, but in the meantime I will be hanging the ornaments I made on my Christmas tree.