In the Hot Shop
At Duncan McClellen’s hot shop in the Warehouse Arts District, the glass-blower’s process is a fast ever-flowing water ninja – quick movements, no distractions, no broken attention. Mariel Bass and her assistant Danielle Colon were there on a Friday when I came to photograph the action. Lets jump right into the process, shall we?
It starts as a nub of molten glass, called the gather, is heated up in a 2,150 degree furnace and then rolled over an iron shelf. The glass sits at the end of a hollow iron pipe.
The reheating chamber (the “glory hole” in shop talk) is even hotter than the 2,150 degree furnace. The gather spends a lot of time twirling in and out of the reheating chamber on its way to becoming what it will become. It must be turned consistently and evenly so it’s not lopsided.
At the DMG hot shop, which Duncan said cost him a $325,000 investment to put together, famous artists come through to blow glass, local staff blow glass, and I showed up when Mariel Bass was doing her weekly gaff sesh.
This was my favorite part: the slip gather, in which Mariel wanted less material on her pole so she dunked it in water, creating a gorgeous golden ooze of hot liquid glass falling off the core piece.
“This is one of our favorite tools – folded up wet newspaper.”
It seems there’s no end to the way you can add line and texture to the gather – here Mariel rolls the hot glass over glass line shards laid out by her assistant, and they stick to the sides.
Hold your breath at the sand-dump tray. I always loved the idea that glass is melted sand, and sometimes in the day-to-day I imagine a vast field of sand turning into a field of glass, so I was excited to see Mariel dropping sand all over her piece-in-progress. So pure.
This extra glass slack Mariel cut off from her vase would make a wild doorknob or a steamed dumpling sculpture.
The hot glass steams so quickly against the wet newspaper that it comes off like smoke.
Here Mariel is shaping the object with two stone sponges of some kind.
Danielle seems ever ready and poised to help with the next step, whether blowing air into glass, having materials ready, or suiting up like a beekeeper in a matter of seconds.
“Not make it too even, you know what I mean?” Mariel says of her own process to Danielle as they put the bulbous glass back in the fire. “Make it random.”
Duncan McClellen’s glass studio began at the same time the Chihuly craze swept St. Pete in 2004, but not because of it. It was just a mutually arising time for glass. Stop into the space any Second Saturday to wander through his gorgeous sculpture garden, see all the glass and learn how you can help support the many humanitarian and educational causes he spearheads locally and internationally.