It's pretty obvious from the moment that you enter Jonathan's barn that the artisan glassblowing trade has been pretty much unaffected by modern technology. The room is full of metal bars, buckets of broken glass with the occasional splash of beauty and colour, represented in his amazing pieces of glasswork. His custom, hand built furnaces blast out immense heat; I dread to think of the amount of gas used to power these things. The roar of the fires provides a constant background drone. Light and colour is an obvious theme in his work and @highwings and I were lucky enough to get a full days tutelage from the man himself.
"Dip the rod 2 inches into the pool of molten glass, turn it quickly four times and then lift the rod back out. Keep the rod turning at all times so that the glass doesn't drop."
Sounds easy..... it's not. Half the time it is hard to see exactly how far into the glass you are, the other half you are trying not to get too close to stop your arm looking like a hot dog that has just come off the barbeque.
We started by rolling out some simple cylinders and using the tools provided, made marbles out of the ends. The initial part of this is taking the molten glass, on a rod, to the marver table; a small metal table on which you roll the glass backwards and forwards to make a small cyclinder.
Rolling the work on here is really quite hard. Too much downward pressure and you just end up with a flat spot. get the rod at the wrong angle and the shape goes off. It would normally take a few attempts before we got something anywhere near cylindrical, with many trips back to the smaller furnace (unfortunatley named, "The Glory Hole"). The Glory Hole furnace was fronted with a couple of rollers on which you placed the rod and turned it while the piece of glass heats up. There is a vast difference in heat the further in or out you go, so positioning is quite important as well as keeping the glass from glooping down into the furnace itself. Turning constantly is imperitive. Once you have the cylindrical work heated and nicely shaped you can take the work to the bench where you can roll the bar and form it into shapes using various tools.
You can use the jacks (which are waxed), to reduce the radius down (setting the neck). Leaning the jacks away from the line you have created rounds off the bottom of the marble. You can also pull the marble away from the rod as you work, stretching it out and creating something similar to a wine glass stem. Quite frequently, the work would have to go back in the furnace to get more heat. It was like trying to hold slightly sticky treacle with a pair of tweezers! Eventually we both got the hang of it though.
The first proper piece we made was a paperweight. This would be a test in forming a sphere (or an egg in the case of @highwing 's attempt!!). Firstly we got some colour onto our first collection of glass
This then went back into the furnace to melt the various oxides that create the pigmentation. Once melted onto the glass, you hit the table, grab some tweezers and twist the cylinder into some kind of crazy shape. This forms some awesome swirl colouring for the inside of the paperweight. Once twisted up, it goes back into the glass furnace where more glass is collected on top, taken back to the table and shaped and then we added some bubbles in using the tweezers and stabbing some holes in it. One more trip to the furnace for more glass, more shaping and we ended up with some pretty good looking paperweights.
Once any of the items we created were finished, they would get dropped into the kiln to cool down slowly to prevent them cracking or shattering. This process takes 24-48 hours, at which point someone will be griding the bases of our paperweights and other items down to make them flat.
Of course, we also had a go at glass blowing. The process is pretty similar really. Keep the glass hot and rotating, but this time, get some air into the glass cylinder and it eventually forms what is, effectively, a big glass bubble. It was suprising how little blowing you actually needed to do to get air into the molten glass. We ended up blowing a glass vase each and a Christmas bauble each. The Christmas bauble was also interesting as it involved adding colour to the glass as well as silver leaf.
Once we get our finished works of "art" back in a week or so, I'll be sure to put some images of them up. Hopefully by then, my hand won't be as burned and sore!!
Hope you enjoyed this, I know we certainly did.
Thanks for reading