Home > Uncategorized > Take a Glass Blowing Class

Take a Glass Blowing Class

This has to be one of my favorite Groupon-inspired activities. Along with three of my friends I took a one-hour glass class at Taylor Backes, a glass art studio tucked away on Washington Street in Boyertown, PA. I made this fabulous paper weight on the left. Really, can you believe I made that? In one hour, no less? Here are a few things you might be interested to know.

1.We didn’t actually do glass blowing. There was no blowing involved in this. But we did, under the direction of our very patient teacher, Dan, learn about the art of making beautiful works of art out of glass. At least, to us they were works of art.

2. The Gallery. Taylor Bakes has been producing beautiful glassworks in Boyertown for 25 years. My friends and I had no idea it even existed, but we were wowed by the  studio from the moment we walked in the door. Gorgeous glassware was on display in several rooms that featured an impressive variety of artwork, from  enormous and colorful vases, to small dragonfly ornaments and even smaller pendants and earrings. It was worth the trip just to gaze on the merchandise. On the left you can see the owner, Will, standing in front of a display of bowls. It’s worth noting that studios like this can make me nervous, I feel like I might break something. But everyone we met put us at ease, and we felt comfortable exploring the gallery.

3. The lesson. Located off the gallery is the production studio. Our instructor, Dan, introduced us to the basics of the studio. This included an oven that is heated by propane and remains heated at all times (except when it is cooled for maintenance) because it takes a lot of energy and time to bring it to the proper temperature. I don’t recall what the temperature is, but I can tell you this: It’s very hot. Dan used a long pole to pull a blob (I’m sure that’s not the correct term, but you get the idea) of glass from the main oven. Then, he gave us some brief instructions and brought us over to a second oven (in photo) where we would work on the glass. Even in this small photo, you can see how intensely hot it is. Next to it is a table with different colored bits of glass.

4. Hands-on.  Our job was to heat the blob of glass in the oven, then dip it into the colored glass of our choice, then reheat it, then dip into a second color, reheat, and, if desired, dip into a third color. “Less is more,” Dan warned us. Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist using three colors, and felt tempted to use all the colors, but I think this would be like mixing all the Easter Egg dyes–the paper weight would have turned out grey. So I didn’t. My friend Diane went first (I went last because I couldn’t make up my mind about which colors to use. Also, I was nervous about messing up.). We all watched as she, as per Dan’s instruction, kept spinning the pole in the oven, then dipped the molten glass into the colored glass.

5. Colors. Here’s my friend Anne dipping the glass into the colors. The colored glass had different textures. Some were powdery, others coarse. Dan explained that these textures each produced slightly different effects. This meant, of course, that I had more decisions to make–not just color, but effect.

 

6. Twisting: Once we’d chosen all our colors and finished heating them, we brought the pole over to Dan, who kept it rolling while we used what looked like a very large tweezers to pull and twist the glass. On the left, Barbara is twisting her glass. Although it is pliable, the hot glass is still thick and harder to pull than I’d expected. Still, I liked that part of the process because, well, manipulating hot glass was just kind of cool. Each time someone did this we were amazed by how pretty the colors looked. Of course, they were molten hot, and looked nothing like the finished product would, but they still looked great!

 7. I finally decide on colors. Okay, after everyone else went I had to make up my mind and be brave. I chose three colors: cobalt blue, green, and white.  There I am on the left. I look like a pro! But I kept worrying that my glass would drop off the pole–it felt like it would. Dan, sitting patiently in the back, assured me it wouldn’t. Also, I was startled by how intense the heat felt when I was standing right in front of the oven. But it was enjoyable at the same time. I felt like I was really learning something.

 

 

8. Finishing: Once we finished twisting, Dan took over and made it look nice for us. He added more clear glass, then formed it into a round ball using the tool on the left. It’s a wooden bowl with the side cut out and it’s dipped in water. Dan also used a metal table top to roll the glass into the proper shape. I still think he had to work a little longer on mine, even though my friends assured me that wasn’t true!

 

9. Cooling. When they were all done, the paper weights were placed into a cooling unit, which was still very hot. The glass needs to cool slowly or it will crack, we learned. This takes about a day, so we didn’t take our finished product home with us. I think they look kind of cozy in there.

 

10. Thanks Dan!: This wouldn’t have been half as fun if Dan weren’t so patient and willing to explain things to us. He answered all our questions. We learned that he went to Tyler School of Art, and had worked for another glass blowing outfit in Reading, Pa before coming to Taylor Backes (which I thought was interesting because I never really thought about what the job market might be for glass blowers). He also explained, in answer to our many questions, that glass blowing is a collaborative effort that is almost always done with more than one person. Making a large piece will sometimes take four or five people. Our friend Barbara teaches yoga, and he said he could do a warrior pose. That’s what he’s doing in the photo on the left! Anne asked him if we were the chattiest bunch he’d ever taught. He kindly said we weren’t!

Our finished products:  

Don’t these look great! We learned that Taylor Backes offers a much more intense six-hour class that actually involves glassblowing. I really hope to try this. Also, I’m keeping my eye out for another Groupon like this. I would love to have my 14-year-old son try it.  Even if there isn’t another groupon for glass blowing, I’ll definitely go back to the studio next time I’m shopping for a really unique gift.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Brandie
    February 4, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    This looks like such fun, and you got to take home a gorgeous token of your day! Love the photos, too, Laura, especially the one of Dan’s warrior pose. Seems like you were all good sports that day!

    • February 4, 2012 at 9:19 pm

      Thanks Brandie! I definitely recommend trying this if you get the chance.

  2. Daniel
    February 8, 2012 at 12:18 am

    Glad u all enjoyed you’re time at Taylor backes! Come back anytime! My pose looks a little off I’ll keep practicing!

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