I’ve always thought of glassblowing as a kind of ancient magic.  Heating sand to thousand of degrees and then blowing into it with your mouth… it’s amazing when you think about it.  How did we humans ever figure out how to do that?  Did the first guy to ever blow into a wad of molten hot glass really understand the physics behind viscosity that make it possible to create an even layered bowl?  Now we understand the properties of liquid glass on an atomic level, but in the first century BCE, I like to imagine it was just some guy who said, “I wonder what happens if I blow into this thing.”

Boat from Chihuly at the Desert Botanical Gardens

A Chihuly installation at the Desert Botanical Gardens.

I’ve been fascinated by glass since I visited a hot shop as a little kid.  I’ve always wanted to learn, but until recently, I couldn’t figure out how to go about it without leaving the state.  Glassblowing classes are not easy to find if you don’t live in a city with a number of larger shops.  Luckily, in the last few years, a couple of classes have popped up.

Mesa Arts Center

Mesa Arts Center

The Mesa Arts Center is a cool little complex in downtown Mesa that has a theatre, a museum, a shop, and a complex of classrooms.  It was built in 2005 and kicked off a revival in the old town area by hosting festivals and bringing plays, art exhibits, and tourist dollars to the area.

MAC offers a very wide range of classes, from playwriting for children to printmaking for adults, as well as workshops and day camps for the kiddos.  How cool is that?  (For more info on classes, please go to http://www.mesaartscenter.com/index.php/classes/search)  There are a ton of different crafts I’ve love to learn at MAC, but glassblowing is my highest priority.

Glass: Beginning Glassblowing (Hot Shop) is a 3 to 8 week course that teaches the Italian style of glass blowing while working in teams.  Classes run from $212 to $428 depending on what time/date you choose and all the supplies are included.  After that class is complete, I could move on the Intermediate Glassblowing class and hone my skills.

The hot shop at Circle 6

Circle 6 Studios

The only other place to learn glass art is at Circle 6 Studios.  It’s a small hotshop behind a house in downtown Phoenix, run by experienced glass artist John Longo.  Most of the classes offered at Circle 6 are one-day workshops where they walk the student through a particular project, like glass flowers and paperweights.  I really like that concept because it makes glasswork more accessible to people who are interested in it without requiring them to sink a ton of money and time into the hobby.

Glass Blowing at Circle 6

Tim works the glory hole, I do the blowing. You heard me.

Tim and I attended their Pumpkins workshop last October and it was a wonderful introduction into glassblowing.  The teachers did all the ‘hard’ work – we just picked out the colors, blew into the pipe, and jacked the piece a bit.  That was a nice way to start because I didn’t have to be worried about messing anything up (and I got a cute pumpkin at the end), but I definitely want to learn how to do all the steps on my own.

My Glass Pumpkin

Circle 6 offers beginning classes for serious glassblowers, too.  You have to start with one 3 hour course just on glass gathering (picking up the hot glass on the end of the tube) and practice that until you master it, then you follow up with a class on jacking and marvering, which helps you learn how to use some of the different tools.  Each course is $150 and should be taken multiple times before you can move on… though I’m not sure what you move on to because no other advanced classes have been listed on their site yet.

Here’s a comparison of the two programs:

Mesa Arts Center Circle 6 Studios
$480 $600
Work In Teams Work Alone
Overview of Several Skills Focus on One Skill
Many Dates/Times Available Few Sessions Available
Biking Distance 25 Minute Commute

So what will I be taking?  Honestly, it’s likely I will do both.  I’m going to start with the classes at MAC to get an overview of the skills I need and to see if I actually like doing it, then I’ll do the workshops at Circle 6 to get more practice and hands on experience.  I’ll be signing up for classes when I’ve got my budget all figured out and hopefully attend a course in March!  I can’t wait!