There is a place in Sunderland which looks like an empty industrial lot next to the river:
If you didn’t know what it was, you would walk right past it thinking it was either an old shipping yard that has been torn down, or the foundation of a building that hasn’t gone up yet.
I came out here last month with my brother-in-law with my GPS in hand, looking high and low for the National Glass Center. I couldn’t understand why it was leading us to an empty lot.
Then we got closer.
What an incredibly beautiful place! Once you make your way down and through the front entrance, the whole building is spread out before you, light as air and filled with sunshine through the massive wall of windows.
We spent hours watching a glass blowing demonstration, observing the torch artists making tiny glass sails for their tiny glass ships, browsing in the beautiful gift shop, museum and art exhibits, and we even had lunch in the cafe.
And we found out that they offer workshops. Sign me up!
I’ve made a few new friends here, most of them American (funny how we flock together like birds), and talked a couple of them in to taking one of the workshops with me. We showed up this morning and found out we would be lucky enough to work with this woman:
Can you see those burn scars on her left arm? I didn’t ask if they were from the glass. I’ll tell you one thing about her though, she is one bad ass talented woman! She can mold and sculpt that blob of glass into something incredibly beautiful with just her hands and a few tools.
We also had the pleasure of learning from this guy here:
He’s a man who has the art of teaching down to a well-timed science.
Our craft today was a glass bubble Christmas ornament. He walked us through the steps of choosing our colors, holding the rod, spinning it just the right way back and forth, moving and heating your molten glass within the furnace to just the right temperature and then handing it off so you could sit down and blow your bubble. We got one demonstration, and then it was our turn.
He dipped the rod into the furnace to pick up just the right amount of liquid glass, then handed it over to us. The glass moves, and flows, and wants to drip right off the end. I felt like I had a wild beast on a stick!
Next we rolled our blob into our pre-chosen pieces of colored glass bits, sort of smooshing the pieces into it like rolling cookie dough in sprinkles. Those are all technical terms, by the way.
Smoosh a little bit onto the end too, don’t want to miss a spot.
Once the colored glass is stuck to your piece, you swing it back over to the furnace where you have to spin it just right, back and forth, to keep it from falling off the end of the rod as you melt the colored glass right into the clear.
Then it’s over to the blowing stool, where our amazing artist would roll, curve, shape and spin your glass blob while you blow with all your might to turn it into a bubble.
Blow, reheat, blow, shape, blow some more and shape some more.
Then, with a quick tap your work is dropped into a tray filled with hot sand.
And voila! You have made a beautiful Christmas ornament with the help of some very talented teachers.
A quick drop of more molten glass to make a little swirl on top, and it’s finished. Now they sit in an oven for two days to slowly cool down, and they’ll be sent to us by mail next week.
I was lucky enough to make two of them since I pre-paid for Brian to take the class with me but he got himself sent off to Brazil for work.
And what’s more fun than doing a workshop? Doing a workshop with friends. Michele did a beautiful job with her bauble too, and I can’t wait to see how her colors come out.
Kat showed us how it was done, solo style.
A big thank you to both of them for being my on-the-spot photographers. When it was my turn I sort of shoved my camera in their hands and asked them to snap a few shots of me. They did a great job!
Kat also writes a beautiful blog about all the things she loves, and I’ll tell you she has extremely good taste. Go take a look: My Favourite Things
There is something really amazing about taking a dangerous and shapeless blob of goo which could burn your fingers right off, and watching it turn into something delicate and beautiful. I could watch glass blowers at work for hours, and I feel really lucky that I got to participate.
And I didn’t even burn myself, anyone else, or break anything. It was a good day.