Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
We at the Gazette were roused from our usual email-viewing stupor at the sight of the subject line of “Fletcher Coleman’s Handblown Glass for Sale” in Reserved Students Digest #795. We sat down (in the email sense) with Coleman to find out more about what glassblowing is and what got him interested in the field.
Daily Gazette: Could you tell me about glassblowing (the process, the materials used, where it is done, etc.)?
Fletcher Coleman: Both of my parents are artists; my father is a glassblower and my mother is a printmaker. Glassblowing requires very specific facilities, and my father built glassblowing furnaces, a annealing oven (glass kiln), and the rest of his shop on our farm in central Ohio when my parents moved there in 1978.
As for the glassblowing process, there are a number of different styles of glassblowing you can do, but I’ll explain the type that I myself know how to do, which is called steaming. About once every two or three years, my father buys two tons of broken, unusable, clear glass that is left over from glass factories around Ohio. We take this glass and re-melt it in our furnaces and maintain it in a molten state at around 3000 degrees farenheit in a process that is called charging. After the furnace is charged, to blow glass, you use an iron pipe called a gathering rod to gather a ball of glass from the furnace. We then shape the glass with various tools and reheat it to maintain its molten state in a device called a glory hole. During this process, the glass is rolled in a powered chemical called frit to give it various colors. After the piece is made, it is put in the annealing oven to slowly bring down its temperature so that it doesn’t crack from cooling too quickly. After the piece is removed from the annealing oven, we finish the piece by grinding the rough area where it is removed from the gathering rod on a grinding wheel. That gives you a somewhat rough idea of the general process.
DG: What sort of pieces do you create?
FC: I make a variety of pieces, relatively small compared to what my father makes, but I make perfume bottles, bowls, paperweights, shot glasses, vases, and small decorative pieces that look similar to amphora and are called beanpots. However, I was only about to bring a small variety of these pieces back from Thankgiving break as I had very little time to blow glass.
DG: How long have you been doing this for? How did you start? How difficult is it to learn?
FC: I have only been blowing glass for about six months, though I have been working for my father for about ten years taking care of his shop and charging his furnaces. This is the first year I’ve actually gotten into the shop and started blowing. I have found blowing glass to be an incredibly difficult process, which suprised me because my father has always made it look so easy. It requires incredible finess to maintain the proper heat for the glass, heat it in the necessary places to achieve certain shapes, use the tools properly, and to achieve symmetrical shapes. Symmetricality and heating are probably the two most difficult and frustrating aspects of blowing glass.
DG: What do you enjoy most about glassblowing?
FC: Blowing glass is a very creative process with a tangible outcome. It is a lot of fun to watch your piece take shape, especially when it goes well, and it is very satifying to have a final product for your efforts.
DG: How do you get inspired/where do you find inspiration?
FC: Because I am still in the very beginning stages of glassblowing, I take lots of inspiration from the forms that my father has developed. As he says, it is important to first master the basics before moving on to abstraction.
Coleman will be selling “a small selection” of his handblown artglass today from 12:00-4:30 p.m. in Tarble near the bag lunch counter.