Over plastic cups of wine with friends, I’ve outfitted a terrarium, assembled a floral arrangement in a hollowed pumpkin, and painted the Narragansett Towers beneath the glow of a full yellow moon. It’s always a good time even if some of my make-and-takes end up in the circular file, as they say. To me, the fun usually lies in the process, not the product – creating memories with friends. I’m always as giddy over the buffet of supplies presented as my nine-year-old self would be with a fresh set of crayons.
I’ve been following Providence Art Glass for a while, ever since featuring the work of owners Rebecca Zhukov and Terence Dubreuil in an article about Rhode Island lamp makers. When I learned the industrious duo was opening Blackstone River Glass Center, a 20,000-square-foot studio space and shop in the Valley Falls section of Cumberland, I was intrigued. A visit to their website shows they offer a range of classes, including Glassblowing Girls Night Out on Saturday evenings. Sign me up!
Not long after registering for the class, I received an email with a class waiver and prep list. Close-toed shoes, long hair tied back, and a note that we’ll be working in front of furnaces and ovens at 2,000 degrees. This is serious business and my best friend and I, who can be quite silly, wondered what we got ourselves into! We arrived in the dark of night (it’s past six, after all) into the luminous gift shop entrance. Our instructor Jesse Yager, a professional glass blower and flame worker, greeted and led us through to an area zoned to showcase glass lighting fixtures, and a dining table set for our girls night with cheese and crackers, and wine. Thinking about that furnace, we decide to skip the sips and get right to the action.
Yager provided an overview of the equipment, and explained that the craft has remained the same for centuries. He demonstrated all of the steps involved in making a drinking glass – the item we chose to make – from start to finish. There’s the heating of a long rod in the furnace, rolling it to gather colored glass fragments (or frit) so they fuse to the tip. This is followed by constantly rolling, shaping, and returning the business end to the extreme heat often to get the glass back to a molten state to manipulate. Yager took care of the blowing, which creates a cavity in the forming bubble, and talked us through widening the opening with large steel tweezers, while taking turns rolling. When it was my turn to blow-torch a nub at the bottom, “Fire” by Jimi Hendrix played over the sound system; it was a moment.
Once we completed our glasses, they were labeled and placed in an annealing oven to cool slowly overnight. When I returned during the daytime to pick them up, the facility’s beautiful location on the Blackstone River was more obvious. I headed inside and went directly to the shelf holding finished work and smiled at my glass with pale aqua spots in all its wabi-sabi glory. Not only was this fascinating and fun, but I love my glass, which I’m using as a vase. I’ll never look at drinking glasses the same way, and I even left with both of my eyebrows intact!
30 Meeting Street, Cumberland
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