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If you happened to walk through Mantor hall in the past few weeks, you may have noticed something unusual... read more

Glassblowing: The 'extreme sport' of the art world
Megan Blume
Antelope Staff
Photo by Megan Blume
Glass beads and hemp were used to create keychains, which sold for $10 each during the glass sale. The beads were handmade by Shilo Parker.
Photo by Megan Blume
Shilo Parker, a junior studio art major from Kearney, demonstrates lampworking, the creation of glass beads. Parker has been making glass beads since 2002.
Photos by Megan Blume
Chad Fonfara, art assistant professor, and Naoyuki Takeda, a senior interior design major from Japan, work together to form a goblet. Fonfara learned goblet building in Corning, N.Y., this summer and had it integrated into the fall curriculum.

At 2,000 degrees, glass blowing makes for one hot piece of artwork. Students and the Kearney community thought so too as they bought up the unique glass pieces at this year’s annual Glass Blowing Open House and Glass Sale Nov. 6.

UNK advanced glass students sold their unique work and gave glass blowing demonstrations throughout the day. Shilo Parker, a Kearney native and junior studio art major with an emphasis in glassblowing and ceramics gave lampworking demonstrations during the open house Saturday showing how to make glass beads.

“I was first introduced to glass through lampworking (making glass beads) back in 2002 at an art show in Omaha,” Parker said. “Ever since then I have been making glass beads off and on for my friends.”

The art students made it look easy during their demonstrations, turning globs of molten glass into seamless, glossy ornaments, bowls and vases, but glass blowing is no easy task.“This semester I’m in Glass 2 and realizing that one of the hardest parts of glass blowing is the relationship you have with the glass itself and understanding why it acts the way it does when you manipulate it into various forms,” Parker said. “When working with molten glass you have to keep your motions fluid.”

“Usually if I have a problem, it boils down to timing. There is a specific temperature range where the glass is workable, and a few seconds can deform a piece due to too much heat, or crack a piece because it got too cold and suffered thermal shock,” said Paul Engler, a non-degree seeking graduate from North Platte.

“I like working with sculptural pieces, using the thickness and transparency of the glass to achieve certain effects,” Engler said.

Thom McMahon, a glass artist from Smithville, Tenn., also gave demonstrations during the open house. McMahon had been at UNK for the past week as a visiting artist and guest lecturer. He got the crowd involved while making a glass bowl with a colored bottom. McMahon explained that glass making has been around for 2,000 years and glassmakers were kept on an island in Verona, Italy, so others wouldn’t learn the glass technique. To protect the secrets, assassins killed glass workers who escaped from the island.

“The week-long glass workshop Thom McMahon conducted will benefit the glass students by exposing them to a professional glass artist in a region of the country where there is a scarcity of working professional glass artists,” said Chad Fonfara, art assistant professor.

The UNK Glass and Sculpture Club (GAS) meets every Tuesday night in their “hot shop” located in Otto Olson. Students work with glass and practice making different forms, designs and colors.

“There isn’t any real specific form I enjoy making in glass. It’s more of just being in the hot shop around the heat of the glory holes (openings in the furnace) and the glass furnace. It can be mesmerizing just being in the hot shop,” Parker said.

The furnace in the “hot shop” reaches over 2,500 degrees, and students take metal pipes with molten hot glass in and out of it often. The danger involved is obvious, but the beautiful glass works coming out make the danger worthwhile, Parker said. “There is always an element of danger when dealing with glass that is over 2,000 degrees. Luckily, here at UNK we have a great instructor that cares very much about his students and their safety.”

The glass pieces at the open house were priced between $10-$100. Last year the GAS Club earned more than $3,000.

According to Fonfara, a portion of the glass sale proceeds will go to the GAS Club, while the remainder will go to the individual artists so they may purchase new color and equipment to further their studies. The students sell their work in more places than just the annual Glass Blowing Open House.

“I have sold various pieces of my work to friends and family. I also have a good portion of my works for sale and on display at Tru Cafe in downtown Kearney,” Parker said.

Throughout the day there was a lot of trial and error and many pieces ended up in the glass scrap pile, but the successful works made the crowd ohh, ahh and applaud.


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