Creating artwork from glass not as smooth as it looks

PORT ANGELES — Paul Labrie effortlessly spins the long metal bars with red-hot glass at the end at a constant pace.

I am not so graceful as I attempt to create my own work of art in glass at the Blow Hard Glass Gallery at 110 E. Railroad Ave. in Port Angeles, which, along with the RBS Sculpture Studio, will open today.

As soon as I take over the spinning from Labrie, my paperweight-to-be slumps sadly toward the ground.

In a panic, I spin faster. The molten glass doesn’t fall farther, but the action doesn’t correct the original slump.

Making a paperweight with a purple flower shape in the middle sounds easy enough. It doesn’t even involve blowing glass, just shaping it.

It’s harder than it looks.

Classes available

Labrie will offer the same opportunity to those who want to make their own pieces on alternating days, based on interest from customers.

The sessions will be available for between $60 and $75, depending on the complexity of the piece.

On Wednesday, as I try my hand at glasswork, the process begins with a red-hot metal pole — called a punty — dipped into some even hotter molten glass, 2,125 degrees to be exact.

After shaping the glass into a cylinder and tapping it into the small pile of purple-dyed powdered glass to gain the color, it goes into the gloryhole — an oven-like machine with a hole for the metal pole, which reheats the glass.

The colorful glass melts into the clear glass until the purple color coats the tip of the molten material seamlessly.

I roll it against the metal table — called a marver — evening it out, again, after I let it begin to droop.

Who knew that carrying the piece six feet from the gloryhole to the table while also twirling it would prove to be such a challenge?

Labrie helps me out significantly, reheating and centering the piece and then letting me press the tip of the jack with large, tweezer-shaped tools into the center to create the flower shape.

Pansy design

As the piece heats, more color bleeds into the center. It now looks like a pansy — lighter on the tips and darkening toward the center.

Then the piece is dipped in another layer of clear glass.

“It is good to have the glass layered,” Labrie says.

“If it is just one layer, it can be really uninteresting, but adding a layer to filter it can really add some depth and interest to the piece.”

After some more shaping using a rounded metal instrument, it is time to snap off the glass.

In order to make a clean break, Labrie instructs me to drip cold water over the thinnest part of the piece — without dripping water on the rest of it — and then rapping firmly on the metal bar, the vibration traveling to that cooled area to make a clean break.

My piece then goes into the annealer, where it sits in about 900 degrees of heat for about eight hours.

The process helps eliminates stress fractures in the glass by evenly heating the piece, Labrie said.

He even has an “example” piece, which he purposely made to show what happens when it isn’t properly cured.

The create-your-own-piece classes will give first-time glass artists a peek into Labrie’s world.

Of course, his 34-year career as a glass artist has yielded delicate, detail-packed pieces that can’t be replicated in an hour-long lesson.

Eventually Labrie — and his partner at the studio, Bob Stokes — plan to open their studios to trained artists to use their equipment for a fee.

“It can be somewhere for artists to do work if they don’t have the space to do so,” Stokes said.

Both Labrie and Stokes will offer more in-depth classes after the gallery firmly establishes itself, they said.

Classes will be scheduled in both glass work and metal working and will be posted at the website www.paacworkshops.com.

Hours for the gallery and studio will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Saturday, and throughout the following weeks Mondays through Saturdays.

__________

Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at [email protected]

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