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A Taste of Glass @ the NGC

Author: Roger Heywood Published: 29th October 2009 17:17
I was very fortunate yesterday to have been invited by Chris Blade, the new Glass Studio Manager, to attend a taster session in glass-making at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland.

photoNever having done anything like this before, I was a little apprehensive, but my tutor, Christine, soon put me at ease with her clear and practical approach. Having donned some protective sleeves and dark glasses, I was soon shaping a " gather " of molten glass with a wad of wet newspaper. Christine explained that the dense texture of news-sheet when soaked in water was great for absorbing the heat of the glass. Having been rather cautious at first - having only wet paper between my bare hand and a big lump of red hot glass was slightly un-nerving - it was soon clear that she was absolutely correct.

photoWith Christine's help in turning the iron holding the glass, I was able to shape it into a ball, and then, using  a " jack" - a bit like a large pair of shears - and a file, to remove it from the end of the iron. Whilst by now, the glass had cooled down a fair bit - from perhaps 1200 degrees C to just 500 or so - it now needs to be slowly cooled in a special kiln, or "lehr", to prevent it shattering.

To my surprise, I was then told I could have a go at glass-blowing ! Christine gathered an appropriate quantity on a blow-pipe for me and I started to blow whilst slowly turning the pipe. I've never been great at blowing up balloons even, so this was pretty hard work - you can se the veins bulging on my forehead if you look closely !!

However, I did manage a decent bubble - one of the assistants in the studio team was even nice enough to compliment me on this - " nice bubble "  !! Unfortunately, as we were trying to transfer this blown piece onto a " punty" - so that we could form the small open end of the bubble into a larger opening - it fell off and shattered ( probably because I was a bit too slow and it cooled down too much ).

photoSo, I got to do the gather, blowing and re-heating all over again - and it's pretty hot work, I can tell you ! Christine had already done a fair few sessions and her voice was getting a bit croaky. Luckily, the second piece stayed in place on the punty, and I was able to shape the opening into a semblance of a proper fluted bowl, before Christine removed it from the punty and placed it in the lehr - hopefully for me to collect at the weekend - might just make a Christmas present !!

It was a really absorbing experience - 45 minutes or so just flew by - and I rapidly forgot that Simon Letouze, Press Officer for the NGC, was recording all of this on camera for my benefit. Many thanks for the CD of photos, Simon.

After thanking Christine for her patient and careful tuition, I was grateful to be offered an orange juice by Chris Blade, as he explained his hope to be able to engage more people in Sunderland in the various glass-making experiences available at the National Glass Centre. I was surprised to learn that there are 15 studios at the NGC used by practising artists, as well as the main demonstration studio, and the University facilities in the building. To be honest, I hadn't known there were free hot glass-blowing demonstrations every day at both 12noon and 3pm !!

Chris has organised a new range of Intensive One-to-One glass-blowing experiences at the NGC, which are available now. Full details are revealed in our separate feature. These might make a great unusual Christmas or birthday present for one of your friends or family !

Click here to see more photos from the glass-blowing taster session.


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Roger Heywood
At 19:23 on 4th November 2009, Roger Heywood responded:
I called back in to the NGC today to pick up my little works of art - amazed at what we managed to achieve in just 30 minutes or so !!

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