“It’s sexy,” glassmaker Juli Juneau explains. “The smoothness of it, the lines and the planes, the shapes. Making it keeps me interested.” She started taking lessons in glassmaking around the year 2000, and started selling her work right after Hurricane Katrina in ’06.
“While glass is very fragile and can shatter, you also have to be very tough when you work with it. You are working with fire, and with the glass at 2,400-degrees,” Juneau says.
Molten glass can be poured into molds and can be blown into shapes, and New Orleans boasts a number of craftsmen and artists working with glass in studios throughout the metropolitan area.
The New Orleans Museum of Art holds a wide-ranging collection of glass, from ancient artifacts to modern creations, with numerous works by Texas artist Robert Willson.
Willson’s wife Margaret Pace Willson, a fellow artist and Newcomb College alumna, generously supported the glass making program at the Newcomb Art School of Tulane University, where faculty member Gene Koss influenced a generation of glass craftsmen, many of whom remained in the area.
New Orleans has a long history of fondness for glass. The Daily Picayune advertised “Professor Greiner, the fancy glass-blower and spinner” selling “very pretty things for holiday presents” on Christmas Eve 1856, and “Bohemian glass-blower Prof. Charles Hudson” entertained with his work at the “Crescent City Museum” from 1865 to 1868. A century later, in 1968, The Times-Picayune advertised “Wide World of Imports” week at Maison Blanche, where German glassblower Werner Knabner was demonstrating his craft.
Classified ads through the years mentioned hand-blown glass eyes, painted to match the customer’s good eye, and offered glass workers jobs in neon companies, making scientific equipment and lamp work. In 1963, The Times-Picayune classified ad reporter Maud O’Bryan noted that Austin Mason, who made scientific equipment at the Southern Research Laboratories, took on the lamp work in his spare time. Only in the last quarter of the 20th century, with the glassmaking program on the Tulane campus taking root, did the New Orleans art community’s fascination with glass flower.
Juneau started her art glass adventure at New Orleans Glassworks and Print Making Studio at 727 Magazine St. The school there offers classes in glassmaking, and there’s a program for children aged 9 and up (there’s a summer program, too). Students (young and old) can also take classes in print-making and metal sculpture. At the enterprise, some of the project’s glassmakers are working on include a new Les Halles station sign for the Paris Metro, a sculpture featuring Orion for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and jewelry that glows in the dark. Glassblowers also work with chefs creating blown molten sugar creations, and interested visitors can purchase artworks in the gift shop.
New Orleans has a vibrant glass community. Mitchell Gaudet’s Studio Inferno moved to Arabi at 6601 St. Claude Ave., where the gift shop is flourishing and the furnaces are constantly in use by artists. An interesting new possible creation for glassblowers is a bong (a water-pipe, a version of a hookah) for marijuana smokers. Now that cannabis is legal in so many states, elaborate bongs are much in vogue. For a selection of glassware and goblets, Rosetree Blown Glass Studio and Gallery at 446 Valette St. in Algiers has been operated by Mark Rosenbloom since 1993.
Local artists can rent glass studio time at YAYA (Young Artists, Young Aspirations, YAYAInc.org) at 3322 Lasalle St. (near Louisiana Avenue). Lesley McBride, Community Outreach and Projects Manager, says YAYA also offers classes for adults and has a full program of afternoon art classes for students 13 to 18. “It’s tuition-free. We do glass, ceramics, painting and mixed media.” Twenty-five accepted students per semester come in after school two days a week – check online for application information.
If you have a yen to make your own paperweight, vase or goblet, YAYA can accommodate you. And, if you happen have damaged glassware, YAYA also offers repair service.
And, if you’re an aspiring art collector, just shop around local glass galleries and art fairs. Put a little sparkle in your life with New Orleans glass!