An intense heat emanates from the glowing furnace inside the glass blowing shed behind the annex building of Liberal High School. It bounces off of ones face and skin, which immediately masks the freezing cold air outside.
Seward County Community Colleges’ glass blowing class is the only place that you can blow glass in southwest Kansas. Students drive from as far away as Perryton, Texas to attend the class.
SCCC glassblowing instructor Matthew Williams shares the shed with his brother, SCCC student Kyle Williams. They gather and shape glass into a cup using tools such as blocks, jacks and tweezers. The cup fell and broke but still, Kyle perseveres hoping they can save it or turn it into something new.
“It takes the average person about 45-60 minutes to finish a glass piece in here. Sometimes it comes to a point where you have to stop and decide its done because there is not much you can do with it, you know,” says Matthew.
This class gives students the opportunity to create works of art with glass and heat. Matthew meets with his students every Monday and Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Students are able to retake this course as many times as they want because, according to Matthew, there is no stopping point, the learning and creating doesn’t end.
For beginners, Matthew has his students start out with paperweights and eventually works them up to create actual glass pieces like pumpkins and vases. He also starts them out by using blocks and other tools used in the process of glassblowing.
Matthew has been teaching the glass blowing class for two years.
“My favorite part about teaching has got to be just being out here. I enjoy making art and all types of glass pieces, for me it’s become a passion after doing it for almost 10 years,” he states as he dips the blowpipe into the furnace, gathering up the molten glass.
Gathering is the most important part of this process. It’s the process of gathering the molten glass in the furnace and having it stick to the end of the blowpipe. Students use this technique when they begin a project. The shape should look like an egg, kind of rounding off the end of the pipe.
“If you don’t gather correctly, it won’t come out right,” says Matthew. “My favorite things to make are either roses because they take me about two minutes or pumpkins.”
Matthew Williams finishes the rose by creating the petals of the rose with a tool called a leaf masher. He works fast because of the need to keep the glass hot. Spinning the blow pipe helps not only shape the flower but cool off the glowing glass. (Photo by Rubi Gallegos)
To demonstrate how to make this art, Williams creates a rose. He first heats the blowpipe up in the glory hole, a furnace used to reheat pieces or a blowpipe. Then, he switches from the glory hole to the furnace, where the actual glass is melted to gather the glass.
Next, he places the hot glass into a wet block, and twists the blowpipe slowly to create a round shape. He uses a specific tool called a leaf masher to create the rose petals, pulling the glass outwards like a rose would appear. To finish, he uses jacks, which look like long pointy tweezers, and makes the stem.
For student Diane Marsh, her favorite things to make are pieces with uniqueness.
“I won’t normally make anything usual, I like sculptural things and anything that’s not an organic shape,” Diane says. She adds that her favorite part about the class is, “just seeing what kinds of new things I can come up with.”
The students in this class become close knit by retaking this course multiple times. In fact, Gary Marsh who used to teach this class, still enrolls every semester with his wife, Diane. Matthew jokes that he can’t get rid of them. Many come back for the same reasons Kyle does.
“Glassblowing gives me something to do, and I really enjoy giving some of my works to friends or family,” says Kyle. “I would really recommend for anyone to do this because it’s not something you get to do everyday. It’s a great experience in my opinion.”
Steps for making a glass cup: (click on photos to see full size and captions)