From the Fiery Furnace

Artists breathe beauty into molten glass

The art of glassblowing came into being two millennia ago, in Syria. It spread from there, over time and across the world, and became particularly popular in coastal settlements due to the demand among fishermen for glass fishing floats, which kept their nets from sinking.

Although it’s certainly possible to find a coastal glassblower who is willing to sell a fishing float or two, today’s glassblowers tend to focus their talent on crafting intricate works of art. We talked with four such glassblowers, Joe Hobbs, Russ Gilbert, Devon Murphy and Dave Magee, all of whom live and work on Florida’s Emerald Coast.


Courtesy of Joe Hobbs

Joe Hobbs’ original glasswork, titled “Bird In Hand”

The Glassery

A glossary of glass-working terms

Annealer: Also known as a lehr; a furnace in which a piece of glass that has been shaped slowly cools

Casting: A process in which you use a ladle to scoop hot, viscous glass from furnace into a mold

Cold work: Any work done on the glass after it has cooled down

Flamework: A glassworking process in which a propane torch is used to heat glass to high temperatures for the purpose of fusing and shaping

Frit: Powdered or crushed glass, often brightly colored

Gaffer: The lead glassblower in a team of glassblowers

Gather: A lump of molten glass, gathered together on the end of a blowpipe

Jack: A bladed tool, like a giant pair of metal tweezers that is used to shape a blown piece of glass

Marver: A metal table upon which glass is rolled and shaped

Parison: Partially finished blown glass

Punty: A small, stainless steel or iron rod that is used to create the opening in a glass jar, bottle or vase or is used to add other bits of glass to a parison

Devon Murphy

Courtesy of Devon Murphy

Glass artist Devon Murphy manipulates molten glass using wet newspaper. It’s certainly dangerous, but Murphy says, “All of the worst burns I have ever gotten have been in my kitchen and not a glassblowing studio.”

 

 

Courtesy of Devon Murphy

How long have you worked with blown glass? 13 years

How did you get started? I wandered into a glassblowing studio, and that was sort of it.

Where do your ideas come from? I usually start with a sketch. Recently, I examined the space between science and magic and made sculptures that look like magic artifacts — things that, if you believed enough, could “power up” and take you somewhere else.

Describe a favorite glass piece you’ve made. My thesis exhibition for my MFA was physically exhausting to produce, but I was really happy with the result. You can view the installations on my website.

What is your favorite part of the process? I love the color of the glass when it’s fresh out of the furnace, and I love how it still sort of seems like a magic trick to me that I can dip a blowpipe into molten glass and make it into whatever I can dream up.

First City Art Center

(850) 429-1222
1060 N. Guillemard St. Pensacola
firstcityart.org

Russ Gilbert

Courtesy of Russ Gilbert

Russ Gilbert has worked with glass for decades. His advice to newcomers to the art form is to “have patience and believe in yourself.”

COURTESY OF RUSS GILBERT

 

How long have you worked with blown glass? 40 years

How did you get started? A neighbor from the next farm over knew how to do flamework, which involves using a blowtorch to fuse glass, and I convinced him to teach me.

Where do your ideas come from? These days, Mother Nature is my inspiration. It helps to live in such a beautiful place.

Describe a favorite glass piece you’ve made. My favorite piece is my next piece, although I really like the wildflowers I make.

 What is your favorite part of the process? I love being able to make something that didn’t exist a few minutes before!

Fusion Art Glass Gallery Seaside

(850) 231-5405
55 Central Square, Seaside
fusionartglass.com

Fusion Art Glass Gallery Grand Boulevard

(850) 654-7311
585 Grand Boulevard, Miramar Beach
fusionartglass.com

Courtesy of  Joe Hobbs

Joe Hobbs

 

How long have you worked with blown glass? 23 years 

How did you get started? I took glass as an elective during my freshman year at California College of Art. I was instantly fascinated.

Where do your ideas come from? I gather ideas from my dreams and from snorkeling and fishing in the Gulf and the Keys.

Describe a favorite glass piece you’ve made. I enjoy sculpting figuratively. My hand sculptures are my favorite to make. Recently I made a “Regrowth” sculpture that is a larger-than-life-sized hand with a tree growing out of the palm.

What is your favorite part of the process? Large-scale glassblowing is a team effort; there might be up to five working together. I enjoy sharing the creative experience with my teammates.

First City Art Center

(850) 429-1222
1060 N. Guillemard St. Pensacola
firstcityart.org

Courtesy of Dave Magee

Dave Magee

How long have you worked with blown glass? Since I was about 11 years old — so about 27 years. 

How did you get started? My father was a scientific glassblower, and I asked him to teach me when I was around 11. At age 15, I set up a table on the boardwalk to the Lucky Snapper (now Margaritaville) and sold my creations. I’ve studied and practiced at glass-specialty schools such as Penland School of Crafts and The Studio at Corning Museum of Glass.

Where do your ideas come from? I enjoy diving and all of the diversity I see under the water, so a lot of my pieces are ocean-themed.

 Describe a favorite glass piece you’ve made. I made two plasma tubes in college that involved working with a lot of different elements, including glass, gasses and electricity.

What is your favorite part of the process? I enjoy figuring out how to make things. I recently learned how to use an implosion technique and have enjoyed making necklace pendants that look like they have jellyfish floating in them.

Dave Magee Glass Blowing

(844) 331-6468
66 Harbor Boulevard, Destin
dmageeglassblowing.com

Categories: Art

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