Learning from a master

Rebecca Mohr

Katie Roupe | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

View photos of the master at work.

Tucked away at the back of the Michael Schwartz building, behind clear garage doors allowing the sun and breeze into a hot studio, students work delicately with molten glass. On Thursday, the rumbling of furnaces didn’t interrupt a captive audience staring at Elio Quarisa, an Italian maestro in glass working.

Quarisa used technique, talent and skill to teach art majors how to make beautiful glasswork. Concentration was etched on the faces of the professors and students assisting the Italian master; no hand was shaking as students attached molten glass to cooled pieces. The slow spinning of the liquid glass against the contrast of the sharp metal tools made the studio echo with the silence of awe-struck students.

Elizabeth Fortunato, junior crafts major, explained the delicate process of her craft.

“First you have to gather glass. It is molten, so you must keep the pipe in motion. The next step is marvering. This is done by roughly shaping the molten glass on a table,” she said.

After marvering, capping is the next step in creating a finished piece. Artists blow into the pipe and cover the hole with a thumb to trap air inside. A bubble will begin to form, creating the glowing glass.

The cap technique can be rough at times for first-time glass blowers. Last week was the first time for the students taking Glass I, the first class in the sequence of a glass blowing concentration, to try their skill at blowing glass.

“The first time I tried, I let my glass cool too much so I had to put it back in the furnace,” said Paisley Watson, junior crafts major. “The second bubble was really good. It was like forming bubbles in soap.”

After the first bubble is formed, the process continues with adding more glass.

“You gather more glass because with the first bubble, there really isn’t a lot of glass on your pipe,” Fortunato said. “You need to be aware of how much glass is being added, how much air is being blown and where it is going.”

Students take a glass sculpture class after acquiring the initial skill of blowing glass. They learn skills such as using molds and adding color.

Quarisa used color in his demonstrations, and onlookers watched the color exploding through the molten glass. To add color into the glass, students rolled the gathered glass in a powder. While the bubble formed, the color surrounded it, and sunlight bounced off the light green color Quarisa used.

Nichole Brown, junior fine arts major, said she has more of a desire to learn the remarkable skill of glass blowing after watching Quarisa spin liquid glass into art.

“Even if you’re not an art major you should take the class,” Brown said. “It’s so different from anything else on campus. It’s the most diverse thing you’re going to find on campus.”

Many glass blowing majors become artists, but others look for more consistent work, such as the professional artists who come and do demonstrations for the program.

“There are stable work opportunities,” Fortunato said. “My goal is to work as an artist. I want the freedom to do what I want.”

Contact features correspondent Rebecca Mohr at [email protected].