The artists call it “the glory hole.” It’s one of three furnaces essential for glassmaking, used to reheat glass while a piece is being worked on. On this late November day, inside the Glass Lab on North Frances Street, the glory hole is burning at 2,150 degrees Fahrenheit. The door is open and the inside glows a molten orange. Helen Lee, assistant professor of UW-Madison’s art glass program, stands next to it, holding a blowpipe with a partially-made goblet at the end of it.
Lee gives a warning: “Assume any metal surface could be hot.”
While Lee is often in the Glass Lab teaching undergraduate students glassblowing, this is her time to practice techniques like the ones needed to form a goblet. “There was a time when this was all I made over and over and over again,” Lee says. “But I haven’t made it in a long time.”
Working with Lee is Anna Lehner, a third year MFA graduate student and Lee’s project assistant. “It’s rare to work solo and I don’t teach it that way,” Lee says. “It’s safer to have an assistant.” Lee and Lehner move around each other as if in a choreographed dance; often there is no need to speak. Lee takes the lead as Lehner anticipates her moves and provides, without prompting, more molten glass, a blowtorch, or a metal tool to smash off imperfect parts.
But sometimes they do consult. “There is a reasonable chance this goblet is going to fall off,” Lee says.