A new community studio at Waterfall Arts brings glassblowing to a whole new crowd.
By Brian Kevin Illustration by David Jacobson
Unlike, say, knitters or ceramicists, you don’t run into a lot of casual hobbyist glassblowers. Making functional or sculptural works from molten glass tends to be something you commit a lot of your life to or don’t do at all, not least because it requires a furnace that weighs hundreds of pounds and must be kept at a temperature of thousands of degrees 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But a new community glass studio at Belfast’s Waterfall Arts aims to make the craft approachable for novices and dabblers.
The new 1,000-square-foot studio occupies a former cafeteria kitchen and fallout shelter in the basement of the renovated school that houses the Waterfall Arts community makers space. Like the organization’s ceramics studio, printmaking studio, and darkroom, the glass studio will host classes and demos, plus offer studio time to certified users on a subscription basis.
The nucleus of any studio, the furnace holds molten glass inside a crucible and remains heated to more than 2,100 degrees. Most are powered by propane, but Waterfall’s runs on electricity, which is more energy-efficient. Weekend workshops for beginners will focus on core skills like gathering glass from the furnace using long metal tubes called blowpipes.
Glassblower David Jacobson, after deciding to close his Montville studio during the pandemic, floated the community studio to Waterfall and donated his equipment, including one of two workstations built around ovens that reheat glass as it’s worked on. Belmont Boatworks moved the 500-pound oven to Waterfall, where the chambers are powered by recycled veggie oil donated by restaurants, reducing overhead costs and reliance on fossil fuels.
Jacobson donated two of these ovens, which slowly bring finished pieces to room temperature (they’d crack if simply set out to cool). Jacobson will lead classes, along with fellow glass artist Carmi Katsir, serving both locals and day-trippers (with scholarships available), plus students from the high school across the street. Waterfall, which is in the middle of a capital campaign to revamp its aging building, plans to “soft launch” programming in June.
Grinders, saws, and polishers used after a piece has cooled. New England has only a handful of community studios where greenhorn glassblowers have access to such tools — and the closest one fueled by veggie oil is in North Carolina, says Waterfall executive director Kim Fleming. “Glassblowing is typically not accessible,” she says. “This is going to be a totally different layout.”