By Mayra Alvarez
The second you step in to the studio you feel the intense heat coming from the furnace that houses the bright orange, lava-like melted glass.
Fresno State is one of the few universities in California that offers classes in glass blowing.
In 1972, professor Larry Anderson started the glass-blowing class at Fresno State.
Since then, the only other professor who has taught the class is professor Joseph Morel, who has been teaching at Fresno State since 2006.
Morel graduated from San Jose State with a degree in ceramics. When glass blowing caught Morel’s attention, he took a beginner’s course in Chico.
After falling in love with the vocation, he worked in the glass shop Orient and Flume in Chico for six years. He started at the business sweeping the floors and worked his way up to gaffer, or head glass blower.
When he became confident in his skills within the trade, Morel moved on to operate a glass factory of his own in Benicia, Calif.
Morel said he produced art out of his factory, Zellique Art Glass, for 25 years. He distributed his glass art all over the world, including Australia, France, England, Japan and Italy.
Morel said he sold his pieces to vendors for stores, museums and galleries. In 1996 he started to teach out of his business.
“I taught a lot of people,” Morel said. “I taught kids, CEOs, doctors, lawyers, to everyday moms and dads.”
Morel said that was when his love for teaching glass art began.
He teaches basic skills, beginner techniques, and how to work safely. Morel emphasized that in order to work with glass materials a person must be protected.
Beginners learn about the process of working with glass and basic tool handling to make simple pieces. For advanced students, Morel teaches decoration techniques, shapes and forms.
Morel said his students learn to understand the creative process and how to turn an idea in their mind to something physical.
“Passion develops with this medium,” he said. “You have to understand the physical properties. Once you develop a relationship with the glass is when designs become reality.”
In 2006, when Anderson retired, Morel took over the glass-blowing studio at Fresno State. Morel said that his passion for teaching inspired him to quit his business of 25 years to become a professor.
Morel’s class at Fresno State fulfills three elective units and is available for all students to take. The class is taught for beginners as well as for advanced students.
Demonstrations are available at the beginning of every class, which many passersby stop to watch.
“This is something that you learn from physically doing it as opposed to just studying or reading about it,” Morel said. “It is totally hands-on.”
Derek Falk, a Fresno State student majoring in chemistry, said he enjoys the class because he is able to do something artistic.
“It’s a great way to relax and do something creative,” Falk said.
Angel Rosales, who is majoring in math, said he took the class because a friend recommended it.
“I like to broaden my experiences in college,” Rosales said. “If there is any art class I would recommend, it would be this one.”
Morel said he has seen students of all types of majors in his class. He said he thinks it can be a creative outlet for people to get their minds away from all of the pressure of schoolwork and use their minds in a different way.
“Glass is a very disciplined medium and it takes perseverance, determination, and a lot of practice,” he said. “You get to play with fire and molten ‘goo’ and create an understanding for 3-D glass.
“Students develop self-esteem when they develop the understanding of communicating with glass. It is like rites of passage, the test of fire.”