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Glass blowing class gives students creative outlet

May 2, 2014

The UW-River Falls glass blowing program offers a unique opportunity for students.

According to the glass professor, Eoin Breadon, UWRF is one of only a few universities in the Midwest to offer glass blowing classes. Fine arts majors also have the option to have a glass emphasis.

“I often compare it to instruments and playing music and that you’re learning a new language basically. And some people pick it up quicker than others,” Breadon said. “But, I’ve never had a student that has been an abject, outright failure. I think everyone that finishes it comes out impressed with what they’ve created. And is really happy with the work they create and the skill level they come out with.”

Student Matthew Cinaski reheats glass.
Student Matthew Cinaski reheats glass in the “glory hole.” The fire is hotter than 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit. (Desi Danforth/Student Voice)

Breadon said that about 50 to 60 percent of his students are non-majors. Introduction to Glass is open for all students who are interested; there is no pre-requisite for the class but a signed add card is needed to register.

Senior biology major Marty Williamson encourages students to try something new.

“You don’t have to be creative. There’s really no limit to what you can do with the material. Glass is a medium like no other,” Williamson said.

The program was created in 1967 by a UW-Madison graduate. Now, 47 years later, the glass studio in the Kleinpell Fine Arts building is hot, smelly and loud. Most days students can be seen working long hours to bring their sketches to life. The studio is open around the clock; the heat is turned on at 9 a.m. and the doors are closed around midnight. Students work in pairs to shape hot glass into functional pieces of art.

The clear glass is stored in a 600 pound furnace set a temperature of 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit. When students begin to work on a piece they move the molten glass using a long metal rod.

“Your forearms take a beating from the heat after being in here for awhile,” said student Matthew Cinaski while a speck of hot ash landed on his arm.

Cinaski used a blowpipe rod to shape a vase he worked on. His partner, Willamson, blew cool air into one end of the long metal rod. The air flowed through the pipe and into the hot glob of liquid glass. Cinaski then worked quickly to shape the glass. He used wet newspaper, metal prongs and heavy duty metal scissors.

Every second away from heat the glass cools which made it harder for Cinaski to shape it. Cinaski re-heated his piece many times in the “glory hole,” or re-heating furnace, which is kept at a temperature greater than 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit. After he completed his desired shape for his vase, Williamson helped him detach the vase. Williamson then placed the vase into a cooling annealer that was set at 900 degrees Fahrenheit initially but slowly cooled down over 14 hours. If the glass was cooled too fast it would break.

“I like glass because it’s a challenge to work with and against the forces of nature to produce a functional piece of art,” Cinaski said. Cinaski said that when he first started the hobby a few years ago it was overwhelming trying to learn all the moves but it had turned into a passion. To learn more about the program or to enroll in the Intro to Glass class fall semester contact Eoin Breadon at eoin.breadon@uwrf.edu.

Breadon jokingly said, “It’s the hottest class on campus.”