DYBERRY TOWNSHIP—Despite the intense heat Monday afternoon, a fair crowd gathered before a blazing glass furnace to watch artisans, Ryan Gothrup and Rob Immello, bend, blow and sculpt molten glass into delicate works of art.
New to the Wayne County Fair this year, Gothrup, a seasoned glass blower of more than two decades, and Immello, a former student of Gothrup who's now studied and worked under him for eight years, drove up from their home base in Tennessee to showcase two, six-hour glass blowing demonstrations on Monday and Tuesday.
“Our whole goal is to come out here and educate people about the process of glass blowing,” said Gothrup. “Glass surrounds us everyday and a lot of people have no idea how it's made.”
He explained his company, Mobile Glass Studios, travels the country providing such exhibitions at fairs and other events.
“I have three trailers,” said Gothrup, “We've got a couple in Pennsylvania right now and one in Ohio.”
During the exhibitions, Gothrup and his team will construct a series of vases, figurines, sculptures to showcase various techniques used in glass blowing, all while chatting up the crowd and answering audience questions.
The resulting works of art are then donated back to the fair at the end of the demonstration.
These pieces will be auctioned off Friday evening at 5:00 p.m. near the main office.
“The whole process is really kind of magical,” said Gothrup, “Where you can put indented lines in, then drop a little water in and the whole thing just breaks right off.”
Enthralled by the demonstration, fair-goer Kristal Whitmore exclaimed of the process, “It's awesome! I truly only came today to see this.”
Artists at work
Combining elements of math, science, engineering, and art, the whole procedure was a concerted dance between Gothrup and Immello to heat, spin, work and attach various pieces of molten glass in the right places at the right time lest catastrophe result.
Too long in the furnace and the work could get too soft and lose its shape.
Too long out of the fire and it could crack from cooling too rapidly.
At any moment the wrong amount of force in the wrong spot, a misaligned insertion into the furnace hole – barely larger than the pieces being made – or a collision as the two shimmied past each other to set up the next step could have resulted in the figures' demise.
The glass used for each project sits melted in the base of the furnace.
When gathering material for a piece, the pair dip a hollow steel rod into the soupy orange mass and twirl the desired amount on the end of it.
Despite the intense orange color, present from the massive heat required to make the substance pliable, the glass is clear.
Any coloration added to finished products comes from fine powdered glass rolled and melted into the stock.
Immello explained the glass is in a liquid state the entire time they're shaping it.
“We're working against the solidification,” he said.
According to the artists, during the process, the glass is heated to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit. Its structure then solidifies at 925 degrees Fahrenheit, but must do so gradually.
When the piece is finished, Gothrup and Immello place it into a kiln set at at 930 degrees Fahrenheit where it must stay for several hours so the crystalline structure can form properly.
Immello explained the kiln cools at a rate of 100 degrees an hour until reaching ambient temperature when it's shut off at the end of the day.
This cooling process is known as annealing.
Reflecting on the whole process, Immello said his favorite part about the work he does is: “I like that it's open creativity and you get to work with the crowd as well at the fair, so it opens new ideas I never would have thought of. It pushes new challenges.”
For Gothrup, it's the physicality.
“I played sports a lot,” he said. “I've always been athletic and outdoorsy.”
Gothrup elaborated on the physical aptitude required of glass blowing “The thing you're not really seeing is the amount of torque and stuff we're actually doing. We make it look really easy because we have so much muscle memory.”
“When I'm sitting there turning the pipe, if you were to try and pick my arm up off that pipe, you'd have a hard time doing that,” he added. “Sometimes you can see me pushing down so hard that the steel rods will flex a little bit. It's a subtle thing, but if you pay attention, you can notice it.”
More information about Gothrup and Mobile Glass Studios is available online at: www.mobileglassstudios.com.