Thursday, January 8, 2015

Empowerment in Manipulating Glass

The Glory Hole
Kaylee and TL
Standing in the heat emanating from the glory hole, I stared at the molten flame inside and watched the clear solid ball of glass with colored glass beads pressed into it transform into a malleable form. The colored beads spread through the clear glass as the heat kissed them simultaneously. I remembered having been in a similar position a few years earlier the first time I took a glass blowing class at the same glass art studio, Jennifer Sears Glass Art Studio in Lincoln City, Oregon - perhaps, glass blowing experience would be more accurate.
Glass Paperweight I made in 2009
The first time I took the glass blowing experience, I opted to make a heart shaped glass paperweight with red and black "veins" encapsulated in clear glass. I loved the first experience but wanted to try making a bowl or a vase ever since that first experience. A visit from my niece, Kaylee, gave me the perfect opportunity for an activity I thought we'd both enjoy!
Making the paperweight had involved much manipulation of the glass through shaping, forming, and stretching but not much blowing and I wanted that experience.
Kaylee moving her initial glass blob
to the glory hole.
I glanced over at Kaylee and observed her focus on her project and felt my glass blowing rod tip ever so slightly causing the glass to slide a bit to the side. The instructor reminded me to keep it steady. I smiled as I pulled my focus back to my project. Kaylee has an independent streak that assured me she could handle herself just fine. I glanced over my shoulder and smiled at my husband, Loay, who was taking photos of both Kaylee and me as we made our bowls.
TL heating the glass in the glory hole
I looked back at my no oddly shaped ball of melting glass in the glory hole, felt the heat on my face and body, and took a deep inhale and let out a long exhale. The weight of the rod in my hands shifted as I turned the rod to keep the glass in motion to keep the melting process even. I controlled the speed and tilt of the rod. I watched how gentle turns or a hesitation in the turn changed the way the colors melted and shifted the weight of the ball. I felt a surge of both power and concern.
My instructor gave me quiet, constant instruction and encouragement.
I remembered for a moment my first experience blowing glass when I made the paperweight. I'd felt quite distracted by a desire to make sure everyone else enjoyed the experience. Loay, Mom, and my nephew, Tyler, made their own projects. Dad and Aunt Geri watched from the audience area.
This time I didn't have those concerns, so I was able to concentrate on my project more intensely. I wanted to do more but soon realized there's only so much one can do in a thirty minute class, which is why I've come to think of it more as an experience. The teacher needs to keep the project moving along mainly because the glass cools rapidly making it difficult to shape but also so other people can enjoy the experience. They have a schedule to keep. Each time the glass cools too much, it has to go back in the glory hole to heat enough to manipulate again.
So I focused on my project and on what my teacher said and watched intensely the parts he did that I couldn't. And, I imagined doing those steps myself.
TL using the wooden form.
After we removed the glass from the fire, we used a wooden form to shape it before placing it back in the fire. I loved watching how the colors spread and twisted as I held the wooden form steady and my instructor turned the rod moving the glass in the form. As I used both hands to hold the form I couldn't help but feel a sense of appreciation for the skill of the glass artists who hold the glass and turn the rod at the same time!
Kaylee manipulating the glass to
create the design.
After we heated it in the glory hole again, we shaped it once more and I used diamond shears to pull the glass while the instructor held the rod steady and turned it. The pulling and twisting manipulated the colors by stretching and moving the colors into new positions. I got into this process and let my instincts take control as I picked the next place to grab the glass with the shears and shape it. I earned praise from the instructor during this process not that I was looking for it, but it did feel good to hear! This part of the process made it feel like the bowl was mine as I let my creative instincts inject themselves. Then we heated it again and shaped it again.
Kaylee blowing the glass
Every time I stole a quick glance at Kaylee, I appreciated her confidence and concentration. She appeared to stay right in the moment of each step of the process. Her ease with the experience reminded me that it's not my responsibility to make everyone around me happy. Her brother had exhibited the same ease when he learned the process. There's something about youth that allows one to immerse one's self into new experiences with much more ease than adults seem capable. I felt a sense of release as I allowed myself to tap into that ease and just enjoy the process. There's a sense of empowerment that comes with embracing the project at hand and letting one's other responsibilities fade into the background, even if only for a little while.
TL blowing the glass
Eventually, I got to blow air through the tube to open the end of the glass ball we'd made to change the shape to a bowl. I didn't remember doing this at all with the paperweight, but perhaps I did because there is a really cool bubble shape inside the paperweight that I've always really liked. I blew gently like instructed - apparently too gently because the teacher kept telling me I could blow a bit harder. Finally, the end opened and the basic shape appeared. There is power in gentleness, something else we tend to forget. So often we only equate power with brute force. As I blew air through the tube, the change created by that gentle effort was huge just as changes in life that occur from consistent effort can be. The instructor used the tongs to spread the end open creating a basic bowl shape. Then we took it back into the glory hole.

Teacher forming
the fluted bowl shape
We removed it from the glory hole. I thought for a moment about how we used heat and cold to manipulate the glass. The heat allowed us to change the glass and the cool solidified our efforts. Then the teacher held it upside down and twirled it around until the glass curved like waves and took the shape of a fluted bowl. So cool!
I both wanted to do this part and was relieved he did it. How exciting it would be to create that effect, but I get the impression that's an advanced technique. I watched the bowl take shape and felt a sense of accomplishment even given the collaborative effort.
Stamping the bowl.
After he pressed a ball of glass onto the bottom of the bowl and stamped it, he placed it in the annealer to cool. The annealer allows it to cool in a controlled environment, so it doesn't cool too fast. Just like in life, we have to allow things to heat and cool at the proper rates to exact the change we desire.
Then there was the wait for the final product...
While the glass blowing experience is definitely a collaborative effort, there's something empowering about feeling the heat emanating from the glory hole and watching the glass change into something that has a bit of your personality in it.
Kaylee's bowl ready
for the annealer.
While the first experience was fun, I felt more immersed in the second experience. I felt a sense of what I was doing and what I was creating. I felt ownership of the project in a way I didn't the first time. Was it a matter of having already had the experience or was it a matter of that feeling of being free to concentrate on the project without worrying about the experience others' were having? I'm not sure, maybe a bit of both. One thing is certain, watching a lump of clear glass with glass beads pressed into it morph into a beautiful piece of which one can be proud gives one a sense of accomplishment!
One consistent feeling between the two experiences was the sense of self-expression, freedom, and empowerment that came from the process of trying something I'd never dreamed I could do.
Granted, I didn't learn enough to try anything like this on my own, but what I did accomplish reminded me I have the power to learn new things and to create new experiences in my life...
TL's finished product
Kaylee's finished product
Like many other things I've done, glass blowing required me to stay in the moment. I've discovered so many things in life go so much better when one focuses on the moment at hand instead of thinking about what comes next...


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