|Furnaces of flaming death|
It has plagued mankind for centuries. What to do for Valentine’s Day. If you’ve been in a relationship for any length of time, soon after New Year’s, you’re faced with the prospect of coming up with something unique that will pluck at her heart strings and make her fall in love with you again. Well at least for that day.
In that spirit, I approached Valentine’s Day 2012 with a two-pronged attack. The first was the obligatory dozen roses personally delivered to her work. As many of you have discovered, it’s not necessarily about the flowers. It’s about the reaction of her co-workers (mostly women) to see their bosses luck in having an adoring husband who first of all remembers Valentine’s Day and then took the time to personally deliver the tribute to their love.
The next was a little tougher. Dianna is a big arts and crafts person and has an entire upstairs bedroom (and an entire wall of the garage) dedicated to beads, fabric, scrap booking, decoupage, glue guns, polymer, paper mache…well you get the idea. So I saw an email from Vetro Glass Blowing art center in Grapevine, Texas advertising for a Valentine’s Day Special. One price per couple includes a light meal, wine and dessert and each person gets to assist in making a glass flower or heart. I signed us up.
On the day in question, we arrived 30 minutes before our reservation to prepare for our session. We had to review a full typed page of rules and a liability statement. By signing the form, we understood we could be killed or maimed by molten glass with a temperature in excess of 2000 degrees and we had to follow our host’s instructions to the letter and would hold them harmless and couldn’t sue them for any transgressions. Kind of took the romance out of the whole thing.
But now fortified with chicken pasta with broccoli, a glass of red wine (the wine really threw me, after all, upon hearing of the dire consequences of having molten glass, the temperature of the Sun, cascading over some extremity, I wouldn’t have guessed they would allow people to consume alcohol, had they cleared that with their attorney?) and really tasty chocolate covered strawberries, we made our way up front where we met Kenneth, one of the glass blowers, to choose our art and colors. Some of you may know that glass doesn’t naturally come in various colors to mix into whatever you want it to be.
The color is derived from metal oxides like copper, zinc and potassium. It can also be added from small recycled pieces of colored glass that become fused in the intense heat and create coloring, streaks and patterns depending on the skill and design of the glass blower.
Glassblowing is a glass forming technique that involves inflating clear molten glass (melted silica sand) into a bubble, or parison, with the aid of a blowpipe, or blow tube. A person who blows glass is called a glassblower, glassmith, or gaffer.
The molten glass is attached to a stainless steel or iron rod called a punty (or a punty rod, a pontil, or a mandrel) for shaping and transferring the hollow piece from the blowpipe to provide an opening and/or to finalize the top. There are many ways to apply patterns and color to blown glass, including rolling molten glass in powdered color or larger pieces of colored glass called frit.
Glassblowing involves three furnaces. The first, which contains a crucible of molten glass (remember the final scene from Terminator? Yeah, I know that was molten steel but you get the idea), is simply referred to as "the furnace." The second is called the "glory hole" (yeah, I liked that one too), and is used to reheat a piece (that’s what we artists call a work in progress) in between steps of working with it. The final furnace is called the "lehr" or "annealer", and is used to slowly cool the glass, over a period of a few hours to a few days, depending on the size of the pieces. This keeps the glass from cracking due to thermal stress.
Dianna went first and got into the blazing heat of the furnace to roll and color her glass to make her heart. She chose her favorite color purple and, on the advice of Kenneth our glass blower, added a little contrasting blue. I picked red and yellow swirl. She really got into it. Glass blowing is pretty intense having to always keep the glass moving so it doesn’t get out of shape and fall off the rod. Each of the furnaces are blasting out white hot temps and there is only a small shield to shade you as you stand before the opening.
After we had heated up our bubble of glass, we had to dip it into the first color powder (yes we wore sunglasses like Kenneth to be able to look into the furnace), reheat it to fuse the color into our bubble, then add the second color and reheat it too. We then sat at the work bench to use large tweezers to twist and mix the colors to give it a swirl effect. We then wisely handed our creations to Kenneth who massaged the bubble with wet newspaper (seriously....wet news print) to round it out then work it into its final shape. Each time we did something to our blob of glass, we had to go back and reheat it before working it some more.
I asked Kenneth how long he had been a glass blower. He said he had been doing it for about 9 years. I asked him how he got in to the business. Kenneth said he knew the first time he watched a glass blower that he wanted to become one. He really loves the art form and being creative with the glass.
I asked him if they get injured often. Kenneth said they get occasional burns and cuts from the glass. I asked him what his worst injury had been. Kenneth said he had been standing next to the bench as they were manipulating a piece that had a pointy end to it. The glass broke off the rod and the pointy end fell straight down onto the top of his shoe. It burned through his shoe and pierced his toes. He said that hurt a lot. 2000 degrees of molten glass, yeah, I would say so.
After getting it mixed properly, Kenneth then used a metal spatula to flatten out the glass and pushed it into its final heart-shaped form. He then torched it to elongate the stem so he could separate it from the rod and push the final product onto a wooden paddle to transport it for cooling into the annealer. We’ll be able to pick them up in a couple of days after they’ve completely cooled ( my heart isn't red because of the added color if you know what I mean).
The coffee mellowed us out enough to hike back to the car and wind our way back to Frisco. There was work to return to the following day and we got back just in time for my bedtime.