Own This City: Glassblowing
- Time Out New York, 09/17/2009

Take in a glass jewelry exhibit at the Museum of Arts & Design, then learn to blow your own baubles at a beginners’ course in Brooklyn.

SEE IT

The Museum of Arts & Design’s “GlassWear: Glass in Contemporary Jewelry” exhibit closes Sunday 20 (2 Columbus Circle at Broadway; 212-956-3535, madmuseum.org). It features 120 pieces by such artists as Annamaria Zanella, Robert Ebendorf (who creates pendants from old photographs and salvaged shards) and Michael Petry (who draped a 50-foot string of glass orbs across the MAD lobby). Also not to be missed: the “Glass as Chameleon” section, where designers coax their medium into new forms, including flowers, gemstones and plants.

LEARN IT

Folks who get glassy-eyed over the MAD exhibit might be ready to invest in a starter course. I sign up for one at Pier Glass in Red Hook (499 Van Brunt St near Reed St, No. 2A, Brooklyn; 718-237-2073, pierglass.net) and find myself standing face to face with the glory hole, a 2,000-degree furnace. Even with sunglasses borrowed from Kevin Kutch, who runs the studio and shop with his wife, Mary Ellen Buxton, my eyes are burning and I’m sweating profusely. In my hands is a heavy steel rod, which I rotate with my fingertips. At the end of the rod is a glowing orb of liquid glass.

Kutch tells me to draw the rod out, slowly. But I move too fast and bump it against the furnace. A glob of glass drips onto the floor. “Relax,” Kutch tells me. “Breathe.”

It was for similarly curious and noncommittal customers that Kutch and Buxton designed “Glass Experience,” an hour-long introductory glassblowing lesson ($100 per person), in which Kutch instructs and (heavily) assists in the process of making glass objects, such as a bowl, a platter or, in my case, a flower and a Roman-style vase. “The majority of people who come into a glass studio don’t want to take this up as a hobby or a profession,” says Buxton. “But they do want to give it a try.”

Kutch starts me on the flower, an easy project that helps familiarize me with glassblowing’s intricate steps and tools. Together we gather glass from the molten pool inside the furnace. This is harder than it seems, as the heat makes the surface difficult to see. Rotating the rod continually, we cool the glass in a water bucket, then roll it over a steel table to center it. After reheating the glass in the glory hole, I sit on a workbench and use the handle of the jack, a tool that looks like an enormous pair of tweezers, to flatten the base. Kutch tilts the rod toward the floor, letting the glass slowly stretch downward, while I use tweezers to nip and pull the edges. As Kutch rotates the jack, each little yank creates a petal fanning out from a stem.

Soon we move on to the vase, my lesson’s main event. After heating a long, hollow pipe and dropping in a piece of blue glass for pigment, I blow into the pipe as hard as I can to send an air bubble into the glass. We heat the bottom half, then hold the rod vertically with the glass facing down, and swing it back and forth, using gravity to elongate it. We use the jack and a wooden paddle to form a flat base, then round the sides with a stack of wet newspaper.

It’s all a blur, and as I obey Kutch’s every command, I’m utterly unsure of what I’m doing. But I’m also fiercely proud of the result: a beautiful vase that’s thin-lipped and only slightly off center. I can’t take it home until tomorrow—the glass still needs to cool down, and so do I—but I’m already dying to show it off.