Glass blowers are unique craftspeople. They continue a tradition of taking
molten glass and blowing it into unique pieces known for their intricacy and
Some 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.
While 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.
The 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 day...is an adventure," she says.
"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
Mike 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!"
Some 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."
Glass blowers also need a certain amount of physical coordination and creativity.
Some 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.
College 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.