Sand, skill and fire: the art of glassblowing

On their own, sand, silica, sodium and calcium can’t accomplish much.

But mixed together, with a little help from the ancient element of fire, these simple, natural materials melt into molten glass, which can then be formed into works of art.

For several years, glassblowing instructor Joseph Morel has passed along 30 years worth of expertise to his students, demonstrating skills that only real-life experience can teach.

“I introduced a lot of different techniques that were previously not introduced to the students, and it really took off,” Morel said. “It’s still broadening.”

One of the major changes in the class, however, is not just how it’s taught. When the class dropped some pre-requisites, students from other majors quickly lined up to try their hands—and lungs—at the molten art.

Senior Kohl Berry, who is majoring in family science, got interested in glassblowing while taking a few other classes nearby at the Conley Art Building.

“It was out of curiosity,” Berry said. “I was taking some art classes at the time and I had seen people out here doing their thing and it was really intriguing. So I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll give it a shot.’”

Berry said that his semester is her fourth with the class. She plans on taking it again in the spring.

“I am in love with it,” she said.

Berry said she was surprised at the challenge behind creating glass art.

“It kind of humbles you because there’s still so much you can do with it,” she said. “I feel like I still have a ton to learn.”

The biggest challenge, she said, was learning how to be patient, and how to learn from her mistakes.

But the experience has been worth it.

“I wasn’t expecting to really fall in love with this art form, and really learn as much as I can,” Berry said.

“It’s not something you can do every day,” she said. “It’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because you can always pick up something, say draw or paint, but it’s not every day you’re going to run into a furnace and blow some glass.”

To watch someone create art from glass is not something typically experienced. The movement of the crafter’s body and arms must remain delicate, especially when dealing with a dangerous medium.

It is a 2,000-year-old art form, and an eye-catching experience to behold.

“I saw it just from walking by—I saw people work with the glass and it just intrigued me,” said junior Roger Heckel, who is majoring in art with an emphasis in studio.

On the first day of instruction, Morel showed the glassblowing class how to make a penguin. Heckel said the students scoffed, confident in their belief that creating the glass bird would be an easy task.

But they soon learned that it only looks easy when a master is at work.

“As soon as you put your tools to the glass, it’s like a whole different ball game,” Heckel said. “The bigger you go, the more difficult it is and a lot more variables can go wrong.”

The class has been working mostly on dishware such as plates and bowls.

“Mostly stuff that can hold something or has a purpose,” Heckel said.

Heckel said that he has learned a lot about shaping glass art, a talent he said would have been difficult without the careful guidance of Morel.

“I wish a lot of professors on campus took his approach to (teaching) people,” he said.

Morel uses a hands-on approach to instruction. His friendly demeanor deflates any stress that often comes from forming and shaping glass that can reach around 2,000 degrees.

Heckel said he fell into the art—it was almost natural.

“I like making stuff with my hands,” he said. “It’s glass; it’s a really difficult medium to come across, and so this was like an opportunity to try something new. So I just started doing it—I fell in love with it.”

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3 Responses to Sand, skill and fire: the art of glassblowing

  1. Robert Bly says:

    Interesting article. I would like to know more about the instructor, Joe Morel.

  2. Cameron Woolsey says:

    The Collegian ran a profile on Morel a few years go. Enjoy:

  3. Jason Nicholas says:

    Are there still classes going on at Fresno city? Where would I be able to go here in Fresno to learn Lampworking/Glass Blowing?

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