Have you ever wanted to take a glass blowing class? Thanks to CityArts in Wichita, Kansas we were able to experience a glass blowing demo and take home our masterpieces!
Molten glass is hot. Like really hot. I’m assuming your not surprised, but I don’t think I comprehended how hot the furnace really was until I was standing in front of it wearing sunglasses, because it’s also really bright.
I have always loved glass art. I’ve even had the chance to see some live glass blowing demos before, but I’ve never been as close as I got at CityArts during our visit to Wichita. We got to experience a variety of fun family friendly activities during our trip, from petting kangaroos to discovering what it feels like to pilot an aircraft. And our visit to CityArts helped us cross off a pretty cool bucket list item, glass blowing!
Our experience at CityArts started with a tour. CityArts is a place where people of all ages and backgrounds have the opportunity to participate in a wide range of art programming. They offer year round classes in digital arts, photography, fiber, silversmithing, painting, potter, drawing, glass fusing, and glass blowing. The three-story building in Wichita’s historic Old Town district also features four gallery spaces that display a new exhibition each month, as well as the CityArts Boutique (in the photo above on the left) where you can purchase unique items made by local artists. Littlest is standing in front of a wall in one of the classrooms where previous students had created a mural based on famous pieces. He was really excited when he recognized several of the famous works including Mona Lisa, The Scream, and Starry Starry Night.
The last stop on our visit to CityArts was the glass blowing area. Here we met Aaron, our glass blowing teacher for the night. He started with some basics about glass blowing, explaining the equipment, talking about safety procedures, how things were going to go that night, and giving us a demonstration. He had us walk through the experience holding the pipes without anything on them, getting us acquainted with their weight and exactly what we would be doing, without the stress of hot glass on the end. Then it was time for us to create! We went one at a time and voted for my husband to be the guinea pig and go first.
The first step in glass blowing is gathering the glass onto the end of the pipe from the furnace. Pushing that door open, with your foot, while you put the pipe in is one of the hottest things you’re likely to experience. Once the glass had been gathered it was time to start shaping it on the marver, in our case a thick sheet of steel.
You can see Aaron keeping a close eye on us! He talked us through each step, was encouraging, and offered help when needed.
Youngest Twin took a welding class at school this past year and was beyond excited when he realized that we weren’t just getting a glass blowing demonstration, but that we were going to actually get to make something. I have no doubt that his welding class gave him extra confidence for handling molten glass, and I certainly felt some proud Mom moments watching him work. (Littlest was too young to participate in this activity, so he just got to sit back and watch.)
Once we had rolled our glass on the marver, Aaron had sit down on the bench to start shaping our pieces. We got to use several different tools, including these blocks, which are ladle-like tools made from water-soaked wood. If the glass got too cool to work with we put it in the glory hole, another furnace but different from the one where you gather the glass, to heat it up again.
Once our pieces were shaped we used jacks to pinch the piece, getting it ready for removal from the pipe. Then there was some rolling of the pipe as you waited for the glass to cool down enough to break your piece off.
The final step is to put your finished piece in another furnace, called the lehr or annealer, so that it can cool slowly. If you just let your glass sit out to cool, it would cool too quickly and crack due to thermal stress. So it’s put in this final furnace and then cooled slowly. We did our glass blowing experience on our first day in Wichita, so we had a few days to let it cool and then could pick it up when it was ready.
Glass blowing was a bucket list epxerience for my family on our trip to Wichita! And we will cherish our finished paperweights, which are now our favorite souvenirs.