The first of the day’s firebreathers pulled on protective goggles around 9 a.m., cheeks puffed, lips pursed, cheeks red.
More than 100 people escaped Saturday’s gray drizzle in favor of the cozy fires of the UW-Madison Glass Lab for the annual Blow Your Own Glass event. The spectacle has become so popular with the community that the Mad Gaffers, the glass lab student organization, sold out all the time slots for not only Saturday but also last week’s edition of the event.
“We usually do two per year because they fill up so quickly,” said Matthew Everett, a master of fine arts student who serves as a teaching assistant in the glass lab. “People want to do it to the point where, if I can convince people, we might do three a year.”
Turnover is pretty quick: Each ornament takes about 20 minutes from blob to globe. Blobs are attached to long poles for blowers to use when prodding them into the heat, where they soften. Then, once they’re malleable, they pull the blobs out and blow into the hollow poles, rounding out the blobs like molten bubblegum.
In between, they choose from a spectrum of colors, dipping the hot glass into minerals matching the shades of their choosing. They choose swirls, spots, stripes, simple designs. After the ornaments are sufficiently molded, they’re placed in a chamber, where they’ll harden over the next 12 hours.
“It’s definitely fun to start with that small, small blob and blow that orb out of it,” Everett said.
His favorite transformations in these events have less to do with the glass and more to do with the blowers. He loves teaching, watching blowers who may have been timid amid the fire and the risk of injury to become more comfortable and confident.
“Interacting with people and letting them experience it is my favorite aspect, but you could ask every one of our students (what their favorite part of glassblowing is) and get a different answer,” Everett said.
Indeed, a range of people sign up, from amateurs as young as 8 to old pros who already boast their own blown glass collections.