Glassblowing instructor inspires students to pursue the fun and unconventional
Joseph Morel is a glassblowing master. This is what he was born to do. He spent the last 30 years as a production glassblower. In that time, he created his own unique line of countless pieces, which he sold worldwide. He is easily called a true master of glass.
Morel has now moved beyond improving his own skills to teaching glassblowing at Fresno State. Here, he imparts an unbreakable knowledge of glass craftsmanship to his students. Throughout his career, he always had a passion for glass and a desire to share it with the people around him.
Morel’s career in glass began at age 6 on a trip to the South. His family stopped in New Orleans and there he saw a film about glassblowing that struck his interest. Several years later, while attending California State University, Chico, he saw the same video, along with a demonstration of actual glassblowing.
â€œThere was a piece of molten glass, and it was glowing orange,â€ Morel said. â€œThen it dripped on the ground and turned white. I thought, ‘This is some magic stuff.’â€
Morel continued to take glassblowing classes for several semesters at Chico State, until the teacher â€œtold me I wasnâ€™t a grasshopper anymoreâ€ and kicked him out of the class.
Disgruntled by the lack of glass in his life, Morel decided to start working for a Bay Area glassblowing studio. The owner of this studio was good friends with many of the Venetian master glassblowers. Through this relationship, he gained the opportunity to meet these masters and study their techniques, a privilege which is usually only attainable by working up through the Venetian glassblowing ranks, literally a lifelong process. These rare opportunities, along with an unmitigated love of glass, helped propel Morel to the next level of his career.
In 1971, Joe and his brother started their own glassblowing company. He got a chance to display some of his pieces in the Bay Area and was thrilled when he actually received orders for more.
â€œThe piece we took was a sculpture of a couple lovebirds. We got orders for a dozen of them, and I thought, ‘This is really going somewhere,’â€ Morel said.
The business was a success, and remained so until he closed it down in 2005. â€œI was making plenty of money for myself and my employees, but it was just money,â€ Morel said.
Teaching with glass
Morel’s favorite part of owning the business was the ability to allow people to come into his studio and learn glassblowing. His students varied from business executives to troubled teens.
â€œWe had one lady who would come in all dressed up, with high heels and everything. She would change into jeans and a T-shirt, and start blowing glass. She would get so into it, sheâ€™d start sweating and her makeup would start runninâ€™ but she didnâ€™t care. She loved blowing glass,â€ Morel said, with a twinkle in his eye.
Though he enjoyed all his students, he was truly joyful about the impact he had on his younger students.
â€œI had another young girl. Her mom made her come to my shop,â€ Morel said. â€œShe had no drive or ambition. She started glass, started to understand it and be able to work with it. This gave her a powerful sense of accomplishment. It turned her life around. She decided to go to college and really push herself to succeed.â€
Imparting the knowledge of glass touches people, and Morel decided that was more important and rewarding, than money could ever be.
Morel brings ‘respect and novelty’ to Fresno State
After he closed the business, Morel started looking for teaching jobs. He found a part-time position at Fresno State. From there, he transformed what everyone knew about glassblowing.
â€œHeâ€™s really revitalized the department,â€ Nick Potter, a painting and drawing instructor at Fresno State, said.
His status as the best teacher ever has become legendary at Fresno State, especially in the art and design department.
He is described as extremely down-to-earth and an all-around great person. He has students from all departments across the school becoming involved in glass. Many of them find solace in the therapeutic nature of glass. It is something that should be experienced to be understood.
â€œYou just got to come down here and try it,â€ Jon Cox, one of Morelâ€™s students, said.
Rojer Serpas, a nine-semester veteran of glassblowing at Fresno State, is one of Morelâ€™s star students.
â€œWhen Larry [the previous instructor] was teaching it, he was showing us the old way to do glass, the â€™70s way. When Joe got here, he started showing us things that I had never seen before,â€ Serpas said.
Rojer originally became interested in glass similarly to Morel: when he saw a video of renowned glassblower Dale Chihuly.
Morel seeks to make sure glass stays alive and well. â€œNot a lot of people do it, so it has that respect and novelty that comes with that,â€ he said.