Friday, October 14, 2011

Hot Glass

While in northeast Alabama, hubby and I took a day to drive the Little River Canyon loop.  The canyon is carved by the Little River and is just east of Ft. Payne, Alabama.  At the end of the day, we rounded a corner and took a fortuitous turn to check out a park nearby.  Never made it to the park because there before us was Orbix Hot Glass works.   I had wanted to see the glass blowing studio but had not made an effort to locate it. 

I am so glad that we lucked up on it.  We spent at least an hour or more watching the glass artist, Cal Breed,  and his assistants creating a  couple of pieces.   Although my husband enjoyed the stay, I was absolutely enthralled by the magic that took place before our eyes.   
After picking up a small glob of molten glass, he started shaping it on a metal table.   Then the picked up  more glass which his assistants had prepared.  That was then taken to the kiln for heating. 
At first, I wondered why it took three people to work, but as they progressed I understood better.  The young lady had just started working at the studio and her job was to open and close the kiln as needed, fetch heat shields, get the wooden molds from their water baths, move the propane blow torch as needed, and anything else that was required for the artist to to his work.    The artist assistant helped with all the tasks between the basics and the actual glass work.  Actually, he also helped with shaping and heating the glass, and it was his job to take the artwork from the rod and transport it to the cooling bin.  Foolishly, I didn't get a picture of him in his Darth Vader like heat shield transporting a piece of artwork.  When you are working with glass at 1,500 degrees or so, safety is not something to be taken lightly.  
In the above picture the young woman is holding a wooden heat shield between the hot glass and the artist's arm.  It has been thoroughly charred due the the extreme heat of the glass.
After the large orb of glass was suitably smoothed, two blocks of soaked wood were used to mold the glass into smooth ovals.   After a couple of passes, the wood actually catches fire due to the heat.  It's quite a spectacular thing to see.  
Metal tools can be used to make impressions or indentations.  In this case, a new rod was heated and used to form a small protrusion that was attached to the bottom of the original piece.  As you can see above, it certainly takes all three people working harmoniously to accomplish the task.  Shortly after, the original rod was tapped and the piece was then on the new rod.   

Once the artwork has been put into the cooling bin, it takes several days for it to cool off completely.  

I was also amazed by the sheer physicality of glass work.  I never would have realized the strength required without this visit.  Molten glass is very heavy, even though there are stands and trolleys to help. 

If any of you are ever in the Ft. Payne area, I strongly recommend that you make the trip to Orbix so that you can see the same magic as me.  Mr. Breed was a very cordial man and was happy to answer any questions we had.  He's been doing glass work for seventeen years now and lives with his family just up the lane from the studio. 

Y'all take care. 


  1. Wow, that is so cool! Being a handweaver, I always have so much appreciation for other aritsans and their work. I love the idea of assistants, apprentices actually, which hopefully they were. What a wonderful way to keep a beautiful craft like that alive.

  2. I'm always amazed at glass makers ... such an art and amazing beauty that they create.

  3. Isn't this a fascinating process to watch?

    Years ago there was a place called The Glass House (original, huh?) in Ambleside and you could watch items being made and then purchase similar ones in the shop next door. We always used to call in when we were up here on holiday. Sadly the business went many years ago.