Hot. Intense. Exhilarating. Intimidating. Just some of the words I would use to describe my recent experience with glass blowing.
For those who may not be familiar, there are a couple of methods related to glass work. While all involve hot, molten glass, the techniques vary. Lampwork (also known as flame-working) focuses on heating and manipulating glass using a torch (or in the olden day, an oil lamp, hence the name). You can find classes for this at Pixie Glassworks and also occasionally at Bissett Stained Glass.
Instruction in offhand glass blowing though, the type I was interested in, was a little harder to come by. But determined to finally check this item off my bucket list, I did some searching and stumbled across Keith Walker, of Blow in the Dark Glassworks.
You may already be familiar with Keith’s work. He has created awards for numerous clients throughout the city and Alberta. If you haven’t been fortunate enough to receive one of these handmade awards though, you can simply take a walk down Capital Boulevard (108 Street between MacEwan University and the Alberta legislature) and you’ll notice his handiwork on the finials on the lamposts.
I arrived bright and early for class on a cool Saturday morning, ready for two full days of glass blowing. “People come for all kinds of reasons,” Keith told us. “Some are here because it’s on their bucket list, some couples do it as date and some people just want to try something different.”
When I mentioned it was tough to find glass blowing classes in the city, Keith was not surprised, saying that there’s really not a lot of options in the city. Unlike other artistic ventures such as painting or pottery, glass studios are much harder to come by. This fact led Keith to build his own backyard studio right here in the heart of Parkdale/Cromdale. “It’s really a unique thing and certainly not common, so there was a need to educate people and inspectors about what I was trying to do, ” Keith said. “I mean, it’s not every day a home-based business has operations with three furnaces and temperatures are over a thousand degrees.”
Despite all the safety instructions and full confidence in my instructor, as I stepped up to the glory hole the first time I can admit it was a little intimidating. That glory hole is hot. Like really hot. Not only is it hot though, you have to move relatively quickly. Glass blowing is a series of repetitive steps — gather glass, heat in glory hole, remove and shape, return to glory hole, heat, remove and shape, and so on. You only have a few minutes to work with the glass after it comes out of the glory hole before it begins to harden, however taking care that the glass doesn’t cool too much is critical to ensuring the final piece does not develop weak spots or cracking — or even worse, breaks prior to completion, a lesson we learned the hard way.
Sixteen hours later, we’d each completed numerous pieces. My treasures included a paperweight, a glass feather, a shot glass, a stemless wine glass, a drinking glass and a vase. I was thrilled and told Keith how great it was to have this kind of opportunity right here in the city.
“It’s part of the reason I wanted to be in the city,” he said. “I want to be accessible, not outside the city somewhere no one can get to. The city needs artists to be in the city, to work here, have their studios here and be a part of the community. It makes Edmonton interesting.”
Interested in learning more? You can contact Keith at email@example.com to get information on upcoming classes.
Also, head to the Alberta Craft Council Oct. 24 to Nov. 28, 2015, to see his new new sculptural work in the Discovery Gallery.