This member profile is a continuation of a piece on glassblowing artist David Jacobson. Click here for Part 1.
David Jacobson’s glassblowing studio in Montville is situated down a mile of country road off Route 3, a beautiful drive to what I really want to describe as one of the coolest places I’ve visited. The studio is its own outbuilding; it was, David Jacobson tells me, ‘a shed’ three years ago when he set up shop here. Now the renovated studio serves as both a showroom for his handmade glass pieces and as a working creative space. As I stand in the gallery, I am still close enough to the workspace to see into both the furnace that contains the molten glass (the glass is kept at 2150º Fahrenheit around the clock) and the other one that contains no glass but is used for heating glassworks being processed. Both furnaces are brightly, glowingly hot even from well back. I’m out of range of the heat, but it must be an intense presence to David as he works in front of it.
I don’t think it’s possible for me to convey quite how exciting and fascinating it is to watch David make a vase out of molten glass, but I can at least explain what I understood of the process. David dips a glassblowing rod into the glass and turns the rod to gather it up like honey, then takes it out of the heat and turns it continuously so that, again like honey, it doesn’t slide or droop off the rod. Once it has cooled to a point he can sense but I definitely couldn’t, he measures the size of the still-glowing lump of glass and determines whether he needs to gather more glass onto the rod for the piece he wants to make.
The glass itself is clear at the point, melted from ice cube-like chunks that are shoveled into the furnace to melt, and color is added from colored glass rods or ground-up bits. For the piece I’m watching David make, he rolls the vase-in-progress onto a prepared sheet of colored rods, still hot and pliable from having been melted together in the kiln that sits to one side of the room. The colored sheet wraps around the clear glass and melts into it after being turned together in the smaller furnace.
David blows into the end of the rod periodically to create an air bubble in the glass that will become the inside of the vase. The hot vase-to-be is heated in the furnace, then taken out and worked with the kinds of tools that might have been used for glassblowing in centuries past: a water-saturated shaping tool made of fruitwood, steel implements coated in beeswax to prevent them scratching the glass. Most fascinating to me is the water-soaked wad of newspaper that David holds in his bare hand as he uses it to shape the vase. When the glass touches the paper, as wet as it is, sparks still fly off it. “This is as close as you can get to touching the glass to shape it,” he tells me.
The process – glass in the furnace, glass back out, shaped and worked, air blown to create the space inside – is repeated many times, and much of it requires at least two people to accomplish. I am impressed with how safely and speedily the glass, glowing red hot, is moved around the studio.
“Glassblowing is a series of corrections,” David tells me. I can see that the vase does have to be treated with constant attention paid to its shape and its size, that glass has to be added to it or removed, that it is in perpetual motion. David points out to me early on that once he has begun a piece, there is no pausing mid-process. There are no coffee breaks. There is nothing to do once the piece is started but to finish it.
When the vase is ready, it has to be transferred to another rod, attached to it by the bottom with a glob of hot glass so that the mouth can be shaped. Once that is done, the vase is scored along the bottom to remove it from the second rod, separated from it with a sharp tap, and the underside smoothed with a blowtorch. At this point, the vase goes to rest in the 960º kiln that will equalize the temperature of its inside and outside, then slowly cool it to room temperature. This takes hours for even the thinnest glass; the vase will be in the kiln overnight, a relatively short cooling time.
This is, more or less, the process for every single piece David makes, and describing it doesn’t really compare with seeing it happen. It’s the sort of thing that looks easy because he has spent so many years perfecting it. There’s no way not to appreciate the glass artworks David Jacobson makes, but getting to watch him at work made me appreciate them more for having seen the work and expertise involved.