If You Were Impressed with How Little I knew about Boston neighborhoods, You’ll Love How Little I Learned about Glassblowing

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Learning something totally new, in a span of ninety minutes, while taking photos, and trying to remember details and new vocabulary words, well, bottom line, let me just say up front you won’t be learning a lot about glassblowing in this post. 🙂 The photos stink too.

I’ll do my best but I’m prepared to be schooled by anyone (everyone) who knows more about glassblowing than I got out of Friday’s walk-through.

First of all, meet my dear dear friend Robin, the single most brilliant and talented person I know. A Harvard trained MD, a Harvard MBA, and CEO of a her own company where she advises the Department of Defense. Sure, who doesn’t do that??? In her spare time (ha!) she decided to take up glassblowing and it has become her passion. She shares studio space in North Cambridge (NoCa) with some other great glassblowers and she was generous enough with her time to take us on a tour.

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It starts here, with the bin of cullets, a base material, glass waste they buy from a seller in Seattle (which I understand is the epicenter for glassblowing). Who knew?

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From there Robin gathered the glass in the oven…Gather: The process of placing molten glass onto the end of a blowpipe – the end of the pipe is placed into the mass of furnace glass and twirled. The process of gathering is similar to using a dipper to take honey from a jar. Gather also is the name for the actual mass of glass on the end of the pipe at the beginning of the blowing process.

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Then she spun the rod like a cheerleader with a baton and let it cool on the metal table (see first photo of Robin above).

Depending on what Robin planned to make, what shape and size, the piece would go into one of the Glory Holes to work it all around (don’t be the one, like me, to ask how they got that name! I learned very quickly that glassblowing terms and sex terms are one in the same!)

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The room had several annealers, ovens heated to a specific temperature (I think Robin said 980, but it could have been 960 or 940, so don’t quote me) that takes the stress out of the glass. Any temperature higher than the recommended causes the glass to slump (a term that even I understood!)

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A more concise description of the process from Mike Gigi dot com.

Before the glassblowing session begins, the pot furnace or tank furnace must be brought up to temperature (about 2050-2100°F) from the setting it held overnight (about 1800F to save fuel.)
(The process of melting batch or cullet to get workable glass is discussed here)
The glory hole for reheating must be brought up to temperature (~2200-2300F) as well as the controlled cooling annealers (~900F),  preheating color oven, pipe heater, and garage. Depending on equipment design, these steps take about an hour. During this time, the artist is normally setting up the preheating of color bar and laying out stringer, frit, and powder (linked below as discussed), arranging tools, and pulling the previous day’s or afternoon’s work from the annealers. Pipes and punties are arranged in the pipe warmer for use during the session. Water is put in holding buckets and crack off bins/buckets , if used. If hand torches are used, they will be lighted or set out.

We didn’t have the time luxury of watching Robin take cullet from beginning to a finished piece (her regular studio time was not when we showed up) but we did walk through most of the workrooms…

Color color color – some colors Robin buys herself, shipped from Germany. Every color under the sun, and more. Opaque to transparent. From powder to large, called Frit sizes. Robin’s personal closet had so many jars and rods of color – the blacks were incredible and the reds, oh my. I’d be broke just buying all the colors.

ReductionFrits

The machines that look like potters wheels are to smooth the bottom of the piece, a slurry comes down from the bucket – each wheel has a different grade.

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Then into the finish room where we were greeted with projects in varying degrees of finish.

We didn’t get to meet or see Carrie Gustafson but we did breathe the air of her talent walking by her studio space. I want the light fixture she did for a This Old House episode.

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Robin’s work is equally amazing and Mr. EOS is going to commissioner her to create a large striped bass for the Carriage House! Robin does a whole series called Fish on Wheels, a fabulously whimsical series, proving that genius runs through her veins in every aspect of her life.

A great morning and apologies for imparting so little wisdom on you.

37 thoughts on “If You Were Impressed with How Little I knew about Boston neighborhoods, You’ll Love How Little I Learned about Glassblowing

    1. The time glitch was a shame for us. We had breakfast early so we could get a lot in the day but we hadn’t calculated checking out of the hotel at noon. There we were, way the hell over in North Cambridge, rushing, with Robin behind the wheel, taking every shortcut she knew, to get us back to the W by noon. We were so close, then uh oh, we passed Emerson College, with police patrolling the long line of cars, parents loading dorm stuff of students going home for the summer.

      In a perfect world, we would have gone with Robin during her regular studio time to watch her create something (although other glassblowers who pay for studio time might not have liked us hovering). We are thrilled we got to see something, if not everything.

  1. Thanks for taking me along on your Boston trip. I haven’t been there in 25+ years – when my kids were in college. One of my favorite cities.

    I would have been hard pressed not to come home with a car full of beautiful glass.

  2. You’ll simply have to make a return visit. Boston traffic wasn’t too bad yesterday but I made sure to check the college commencement schedules before leaving home.
    On a sad note, one of the Duck tour vehicles was involved in a fatal accident yesterday at the corner of Charles & Beacon streets.

      1. College registration in late summer and parents’ weekends in the fall. Unless you’re a participant, you probably don’t want to visit during those times, either.

    1. We do plan to see those fall pumpkins! I heard all about the great glass pumpkin sale from Robin who participates in the making because she does some glassblowing at the MIT glass lab (see photos from the MIT post). I guess they make a ton of money on the sale of the pumpkins. Robin also belongs to a glass band (I adore her so much because of her whimsy). Each person in the band creates a glass instrument that they “play” – they are putting up some videos of the band behind which will be recorded music that the band will sync with. I mean, how cool is that?!

    1. Wow! I’d love to see that in person. How incredible.

      Robin’s merry band instruments don’t actually make sound. They pretend. :-). That’s half the whimsy of their group. Nerds rule.

  3. My daughter is the Director of the Sandwich Glass Museum, just over the Canal in the Historic town of Sandwich on Cape Cod. They have daily glassblowing demonstrations, where you can watch the entire process start to finish, and yes, they have a glass pumpkin sale in October which is mobbed, as well as a wonderful glass museum shop and exhibits by present day glass artists- not just their equally wonderful antique Sandwich glass exhibits. If you are visiting Cape Cod, the Museum is not to be missed! Bibi

    1. Bibi, what an fabulous job your daughter has! Is she a glassblower by profession? How did she come to learn the art?

      I have put the Sandwich Glass Museum on my must-see list. Thanks!!

      1. It is a fabulous job, and she’s wonderfully creative, but she’s not a glassblower. She finds the talented staff and puts together the amazing exhibits. One of those people that makes you happy just to be around-kind of like yourself, I suspect.

        1. Sounds like the perfect job to me!!!! Like your daughter, I too am naturally attracted to creative people. Living vicariously.

  4. Simon Pearce demonstrates glass blowing in Quechee, VT but the real manufacturing takes place in Windsor, VT. All of our SP glassware comes from the ‘seconds’ table.

    1. I’d take thirds and fourths of SP works!! All beautiful.

      Some of my most treasured inherited pieces are circa 1900 red Venetian glass candlesticks and bowl and some Orrefors items too. The art is so pure. As Mr. EOS said when taking the tour, he could probably learn the mechanics of glassblowing but then what! 🙂 I’m not even sure I could learn the mechanics of glassblowing. I’d be the one who died from inhaling rather than exhaling!

  5. Greatest pix from your trip.
    Blown glass, especially delicate chandeliers and light fixtures are special.
    All you need is one.
    Boston and Brooklyn blowers can make stuff as nice as Italy.
    Bedford peeps can get to Beantown from Stamford via Amtrak Acela no time.
    Free wine and warm nuts in first class.
    Driving to Boston is an utter waste of time!
    Rather than both hands on the wheel…many safer scenarios on Amrtrk

    AND AND AND….best of all luck and perfect wind to Catherine+family, moving westerly!
    Wish her the most fun adventure ever.
    Bedford Golf & Tennis fuck you big time🍼
    for not admitting you!

    Please do send a pic of the antler arch.
    When you can get to it!

    Super sorry

    1. Irony: the NYC contingent who came to Boston with us did take the train – and were more delayed than we were in the car!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Not sure I get your rant about BG&T in your comment about Catherine. They have a house in the Adirondacks so I am pretty sure the club was never on their radar.

  6. I know more about glass blowing than I did before reading your post – blithely described, yet, sufficiently satisfying!

    Bottles are glass too, right?:

    Thx for the shout-out on that “other” blog. I post the videos for fun and if they click, they click; if not, not. I try to keep them as short and ‘clean’ as possible. I agree with you about the feuding (and slightly guilty because I occasionally post as Anonymous because, well… 🙄)

    1. I call a foul with that video. I say they are really the new Milli Vanilli, bottle lip-syncing the tune. It was too perfect. Clever but fake.

        1. Okay, but I am a jaded New Yorker – I’m genetically predisposed to being the ye of little faith.

          Is that the only song they can “play”? I see they got some kroner for their talent. Still…….

        2. they actually have quite a few YouTube videos and even appeared on Britain’s Got Talent (Simon was not impressed). The research continues!

        3. If Simon wasn’t impressed, who am I to disagree??? Get the hook.

          As for the new video, was that taken in 1988? See how huge the CPU is, and that old huge monitor. Funny how that was the norm for so long. I remember begging a carpenter who was doing work on the house to take a HUGE old TV off my hands. He fell for my plea. Ha ha. Surely in some dumpster now.

        4. yes, i think that was uploaded in the past decade – that specific bit of research may not have been first in line for funding of state-of-the-art computer equipment. by the way, gamers search out the old CRTs for vintage games that appear better on the old equipment.

        5. Had I only known, I wouldn’t have taken all our old CRT’s to the town dump electronics bin. I remember loving those old games. We had a pile of those floppy disks! One game that was bought for the kids became my favorite. It had to do with spelling and coins and traveling. I’ll have to Google it.

        6. i am so old, i still remember making punch cards for my computer programs, so, games, when they came out, never caught on with me. besides, i sucked at Pong.

        7. I kept the kids Game Boys so I can still play Tetris. It was about the only game I really enjoyed.
          Mr. EOS is a methuselah when it comes to computing too. He still longs for DOS commands and his numeric Compuserve address. You and he would have lots to chat about.
          My sister reminded me of a summer job she had in Cambridge MA post-college, circa 1966. She did data entry (key punch) for the electric company.

        8. I remember those data entry jobs. I think I got paid $2.25/ hr. Talk about hanging chads.

        1. OMG laughing so hard, tears in my eyes. It’s even better because of the English accent. Can relate on SO many levels. Good one Chris and to those who don’t open your videos — their loss.

  7. Business school back when. Time sharing didn’t mean a condo for a week in Florida but an hour on a computer at 3:00 in the morning. I bought a Texas Instrument calculator for $200.00 so I could do regression analysis without losing my marbles.
    What was wrong with the weather blog? Everyone in the northeast could relate.

    1. I, the English major, know nothin’ ’bout birthing no time sharing on a computer! That’s way over my head.
      As for the two posts that I’ve sent to the trash heap, the real reason is that I met up with a local businessman today whose new product I bought. I asked if I might review on my blog then thought I should clean up the place a bit.

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