Playing with Fire
Glass blowing at YAYA Studios
Cheryl Gerber Photograph
You’ve seen these works of art in museums, hotel lobbies, and even on your Christmas tree each holiday season. But have you ever wondered how glass sculptures and pieces are made? We did and decided to contact YAYA (Young Aspirations, Young Artists) to see if we could visit their glass blowing studio.
One hot day in July we arrived at the Lasalle Street YAYA building, which serves as an art gallery, offices, art studio and more for the youth of New Orleans. Glass studio manager James Vella greeted us at the door and brought us to the massive studio attached to the back of the building. As we walked through the gallery, we were met by an exceptional playlist, blasting from the speakers in a corner of the room, and a wall of heat coming from the furnaces.
The temperature was so pronounced that Vella actually had us stand outside while he gave the 411 on the studio safety because, if you can imagine, it was cooler outside in the New Orleans weather than it was inside.
Vella is an expert in the glass blowing community, and an exceptional addition to the YAYA team. His knowledge is vast and his ability to teach each step of the process in such a manner that even the most ignorant novice could understand is much appreciated.
First, Vella talked us through the process, then he gave us a demonstration. And after that we were next. Terrified of the heat and having to manipulate molten glass, my turn came first. I quickly learned that the upper body strength needed for this task far surpassed my abilities, as I unsuccessfully lifted the melted glass from the furnace. Vella, luckily, was right there with me helping me through every step, and picking up the slack as I attempted to pull the glass out of the furnace and spin the glass-blowing pole at the same time – a necessary movement to ensure the liquid glass does not slip off of the end as you remove it from the heat.
All in all, the process comprises about seven to 10 steps. But the most interesting part is the step that lends itself to the naming, actually blowing into the glass.
The pole that is used is hollow throughout. This allows for the artist to blow an air bubble into the glass. Since the practice’s inception in the middle of the 1st century B.C., though they did not know why at the time, an initial small puff of air is blown into the molten glass through the rod and capped in order for it to expand. Next, there is the need for constant air blowing into the pipe, either by the glass sculptor or an assistant’s help, after you have finished molding your shape and as you are preparing to score the glass away from the pole.
There were a lot of technical steps to glass blowing, and it is not an activity for those wanting to stay clean and dry – prepare for down and dirty, and if you go during the summer you are sure to sweat. They invite kids of all ages (7 or 8-years-old and up) to come experience their studio for a party or private class. They even offer “blow your owns,” which typically happen on Saturdays and involve guests coming and creating whatever is on the menu that day. A master class is also offered once you’ve taken a lesson, a few other classes, and are ready to learn from professionals from around the world.
Other than the heat I loved the whole experience. It was an unexpected feeling seeing how these beautiful works of art are created and the meticulous planning and process that goes into each piece of glass. It’s a messy job that yields a beautiful result.
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