Manufacturing Glass Blower  What They Do

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Glass Blowers, Molders, Benders, and Finishers Career Video

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dotGlass blowers are unique craftspeople. They continue a tradition of taking molten glass and blowing it into unique pieces known for their intricacy and beauty.

dotSome glass blowers work for large production studios blowing glass shapes designed by others. Others create work they've designed themselves.

In either case, the process is basically the same, says Scott Turley. He is a glass blower in Milton, West Virginia. The glass is taken from a glass furnace on the tip of a blow rod. The blower then has only three to four minutes to blow, twist and form the glass into the desired shape. The glass is transferred to another rod to be smoothed and finished.

"It takes experience to know when to blow and twist," says Turley.

dotWhile technological advancement has limited the need for glass blowers at the commercial level, it has also allowed more glass blowers to make their own designs. Small furnaces were developed in 1962 that allowed glass blowers to make their own pieces. Since then, there has been an explosion of small and private studios.

dotThe state of Washington is the center for glass blowing in the U.S. This is thanks to the influence of the world-renowned Pilchuck School of Glass in Seattle. The city has more than 50 hot glass studios, and there are hundreds of glass blowers in the state.

Marge Levy, former executive director of the Pilchuck School of Glass, says the region boasts the highest concentration of glass blowers anywhere in the world besides Venice, Italy.

Karen Willenbrink works in a studio with two assistants in Stanwood, Washington. She loves glass blowing because it allows her to work with her hands and use her brain. "Every an adventure," she says.

dot"It's a tiny industry....What I've seen in just the past couple of years has been a real growth in more affordable hand-blown crafts," says Scott Benefield. He runs a hot glass studio.

The industry is barely 30 years old, says Benefield. "It's taken that long to organize itself as an industry with a lot of different levels for entry," he says. "It's growing very rapidly right now....I don't know when it's going to peak."

dotMike Glover works out of his basement in Rigby, Idaho. He says it gets lonely sometimes, but he likes to be able to work on his own ideas. "I think it's a bug you catch, because I got it!"

dotSome people don't like the heat and hard work involved in glass blowing. "You've got to learn to love the work," says Willenbrink. "It takes so long to better yourself. It takes a lot of discipline."

dotGlass blowers also need a certain amount of physical coordination and creativity.

dotSome glass blowers open their own studios or operate one jointly with other artists. This requires them to have the business skills to market their work. Others sell their work through art galleries, which charge a commission on each piece sold.

Most large glass companies only employ a few glass blowers to make handcrafted pieces that are sold as collectibles and keepsakes at a fairly high price.

dotCollege instructor Mark Gibeau says it's tough to get started in the glass-blowing business. He says most young glass blowers have to begin by renting time from a studio at a cost of roughly $30 an hour. He says that can be discouraging, but with talent and hard work it is possible to make a living.

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At a Glance

Sizzling sand becomes art

  • Create works of art in glass
  • Few glass blowers do it as a full-time job
  • Seattle is the center for glass blowing in the U.S.