The other week I had the opportunity to visit Slow Burn Glass, the West Oakland studio of artist Bryan Goldenberg. He's been blowing glass since 1995, and after graduating from the California College of the Arts in 2002 and with experience around the country and the world, he created the Slow Burn studio in 2006.
I've seen a glass-blowing demonstration before, but it was fairly simple, creating a simple rounded shape from a single color of glass. Byran's unique creations are quite a bit more complicated, and require thoroughly planning things out in advance. Creating them is also a two-person job, with his assistant Dave (who is a glassblower in his own right) deftly holding or blowing the glass while Bryan shapes it.
The process starts with clear glass that's kept molten in a 2000°F furnace, 24 hours a day. After a blob of molten glass (a 'gather') is spooled onto the blowpipe, and ensuring it's free of bubbles, Bryan begins mixing on the color layer. Despite the high heat, the glass is only workable for a couple minutes at a time, then it's back into the 'glory hole' for reheating. Besides planning out things in advance, Bryan is always thinking several moves ahead so Dave can prepare the proper tools for him.
Amazingly, besides computer-controlled furnaces that regulate the temperature, the technology of glass blowing hasn't changed much in 2,000 years. The blowpipes are metal instead of clay, but the tools for shaping the glass are simple metal shears and tweezers, wooden shapes and cork paddles.
Once the basic shape is achieved, the glass is transferred to a solid pole (a 'punty') which allows shaping the top opening of the piece. That done, the completed piece is snapped off the punty and transferred with heavy gloves to the annealing furnace, where the glass is slowly cooled to prevent breaking.
Bryan's work is on view in various galleries around the country, but there's a chance to see it up close and purchase it coming up. It's the 2012 American Craft Council Show at Fort Mason in San Francisco, August 3rd through 5th. With hundreds of the top contemporary jewelry, clothing, furniture and home décor artists from across the country, it's the largest juried craft show west of the Rockies.