In the 21st century, and closer to home, glass blowing in Honolulu
is an underground art form with a solid following and immense
creative potential. Rick Mills, University of Hawai‘i Manoa
professor and director of the glass program there, said each
semester he has at least 45 students in his glass classes and
each semester three or four graduate with a BA in this art.
“With glass blowing you have the opportunity to cooperatively
produce something exotic and visually attractive with another
person,” sad Mills. Glass blowing is usually done with two people.
He emphasized that glass blowing is a team effort that requires
clear communication to achieve the artists’ goal.
The first thing the artist has to do is decide whether they
are going to use a punti or a blowpipe. Both are long steel
poles. The difference is that the core of the blowpipe is hollow,
and it is used to hollow out the glass instead of leaving it
a solid piece as the punti would.
Pacific Glass Works, located in Kailua, is one of two independently
owned glass working studios on O‘ahu. Owner Lionel Prevost,
allows artists and amateurs to rent studio time to hone their
trade. Housed in an airplane hangar-like structure, heat emanates
from the studio’s few open furnaces, giving it an industrial
feel reinforced by scant furnishings and concrete flooring,
juxtaposed to the strong sense of creative and artistic knowledge
displayed by its inhabitants.
“These guys have been working with glass for a few years,”
said Prevost, watching instructors and part-time artists Thomas
Zeldl and John Blake prepare themselves to work with the molten
glass. “They pay for their studio time by teaching classes [at
Pacific Glass Works], and make their money selling their pieces
The pair donned dark sunglasses to protect their eyes from
the blinding heat and light of the furnace and Zeldl collected
an initial gather of liquid glass with the heated blowpipe.
According to Prevost, before glass becomes glass, it is actually
silica or silicon dioxide. When these powdery crystals are combined
with magnesium or carbon in an electric furnace and heated to
about 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, the result is liquid glass.
After heating the gather in the glory hole, a separate furnace
kept at a constant 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, Zeldl methodically
blew into his blowpipe, swinging it in a low perpendicular arc
across his body.
Each additional breath Zeldl put into his pipe resulted in
the formation of a small, translucent simmering glass bubble
on the other end. And each time he swung it across his body,
the bubble became slightly more elongated and solid as the passing
air cooled it.
The cycle of blowing, swinging, and reheating was continued
until Zeldl was satisfied that his bubble, then one to two inches
in diameter, was perfectly round. Prevost said that the formation
of the bubble is the most crucial stage of the blowing process.
If the bubble is disproportionate, it would need to be abandoned
because it would cause the final product to be unbalanced.
Once the bubble was completed, the next steps became more
cooperative. Using a series of grunts and short phrases, Blake
instructed Zeldl to the pace and angle at which he should roll
the glass on the marver table, a metal table that is cool to
the touch, and used to shape the glass further.
After that, Zeldl resumed blowing into the pipe to enlarge
his bubble to about seven inches. Once satisfied with the size,
Zeldl and Blake decide to add color to their transparent piece.
Blake arbitrarily sprinkled red- colored powder and blue pieces
of granulated frit, small glass pieces, onto the surface of
the piece. The cooperative aspect of this art form is apparent
as these two worked together.
Forty-five minutes later, the two have completed their piece,
a small red and blue vase about seven inches tall. Gingerly,
wearing thick, soft gloves, Blake held the bottom of the piece
as Zeldl dropped a small amount of water at the point where
the pipe and glass connect. With a hissing sound, steam was
released as the water penetrated the glass making it weak enough
for Zeldl to separate the vase from what was left of the gather.
Once separated, the glass piece is transferred to an annealer,
a small concrete, unheated “oven.” If the glass is cooled too
quickly, Prevost explained, it could pop and shatter; therefore,
the annealer serves to slowly cool the piece over a 24-hour
Currently on O‘ahu, if one wants to get involved in glass blowing
but doesn’t want to enroll at the University of Hawai‘i Manoa
to do so, he or she has two options: Pacific Glass Works in
Kailua or Hot Glass Hui at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. Both
are independently owned, and both offer introductory classes,
for about $250 for four three-hour sessions, and open blowing
for about $25 per hour.
“Art is fun!” Blake said. “After all, anything that combines
fire with being creative has to be a good time.” Others seem
to agree, according to Prevost, who now has about two dozen
students enrolled in his introductory classes.
“It’s all about fire and gravity,” said Prevost.
Mills agreed that blowing glass is a great creative outlet.
He believes that glass blowing is attractive to first timers
because of the instant results they get. “Students are able
to blow their first real bubble, or create a solid color paper
weight after only a few hours of class,” Mills said.