Weekend Adventures: Glass Blowing in PVD

You think because you didn’t go to RISD that things like tongs, shards, yokes, and kilns heated to 2,000° Fahrenheit are off limits to you, but that’s not true. You don’t need years of practice to become a glass blower. You just need to visit Gather Glass at 521 Atwells Avenue in Providence and take a class.

Of course, you’ll need years of education and experience to be a good glass blower, like lead glass blower Ben Giguere, who owns and operates the teaching and design studio. But you don’t need to be much good to have fun with it.

Recently, a rainy day drove my son, Nick, his fiancée, Gianna, and their friends Dylan and Alissa—normally ones for outdoor adventure—indoors for an afternoon of working with molten glass at the studio.

Gianna Zavota (Photo: Nick Russo)

“You go throw a dry run of all the steps first,” said Nick. “Then you do it yourself.”

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Creating a drinking glass from a “blank” involves twirling the glass onto a rod and blowing from your core into a blowpipe to give your piece its shape. But don’t blow too hard or it won’t look at all like you had hoped. Also, don’t worry if you’re unsure of the exact level of human-lung air pressure that your masterpiece needs. Giguere will offer instruction and encouragement every step of the way.

 “Our glass blowing instructors will be right by your side to help throughout the glass making process,” said Giguere. “We will give guidance and help as needed but it’s your object and we like for you do as much of the work as you feel comfortable doing.”

“Everything is hands-on,” said Nick. “Gathering the glass on the rod, bringing it to the yoke, and twirling it to shape it. You do it all yourself.”

Nick Russo (Photo: Dylan Bischof)

The molten glass remains a work in progress through several stages, including another twirling stage where colorful shards are rolled and “stamped” onto the piece from a metal table called a marver. Then it is brought to a second furnace where, 900°F, it “cools.”

There are many stages where the process could take a wrong turn, but there are just as many ways to keep the glass intact. Getting the piece off the rod is one of the biggest challenges. It involves using a mallet. But the instructors are well practiced at guiding students through all the steps, and can also smooth over any mishaps while the glass is still hot.

Giguere said that classes are offered to people of all ages, including children as young as 8 years old. “People seem to enjoy learning about and using the simple tools used to make glass. People also seem to enjoy learning how color is added to glass,” he said. “We also notice that because people interact with glass every day in their lives in such a variety of ways, they enjoy seeing and working with glass in its molten state before it cools.

Visitors leave their masterpieces at the studio to cool and return later to pick them up. “They make sure any sharp ends are smoothed out,” Nick said.

Guiguere added, “Don’t worry, you’ll be safe, you’ll have fun and you’ll make a great glass piece of your own—we promise!”

Nick, Gianna, Dylan, and Alissa now have unique mementos of their rainy day well spent. For more information, visit www.gatherglass.com.