Glass, alchemy, and community

a glass furnace with a glowing circular hole. There's a pipe going into it with a blob of glass attached

Michael stands on one side of the marver table, one end of the glass rod in his mouth and the other resting off the opposite edge of the table. The remaining six of us are gathered around the orange blob, not daring to blink as we anxiously anticipate the appearance of a bubble within the orb. I can feel my diaphragm tense to get the pressure behind my own breath, spiritually joining Michael at the other end of the rod. We coax and encourage, as if it takes the seven of us to conjure the bubble together. We cheer and clap as Michael’s labors result in a small bubble that expands slowly as if emerging in honey.

A woman seated, one end of a pipe in her mouth, the other end of the pipe hanging over a ledge with an orange orb on it
Blowing a bowl

The alchemy of transforming the glass from a molten solid blob to a hollow ball. Our own transformation as learners, walking through a threshold of glass practice and artistry, moving from the individual to collective community experience. We now need each other’s help to blow glass. It takes more than two hands. We have the capability to engage in glass production now, creating things that people buy like glasses, vases, and ornaments. Our class is an orchestra, each of us a different instrument harmonizing and thrumming with the others to create something beautiful and unique. We cheer and clap when one of us successfully forms a bubble, when their bubble forms a globe, when they suck in on the pipe to form a bowl on the end of the rod, when the bowl releases from the rod as we bonk it with a miniature wooden baseball bat, and as we behold the bowl held high like baby Simba.

There is differentiation at the same time there is harmony, synchrony, interdependence, and integration. We call each other by our preferred names now. Without prompting, each of us has taken on a role we’re happy to do. I’m the group photographer with everyone’s mobile number. Eric switches out the tubs of frit, the gritty particles of colored glass we add to our clear glass. Michael uses the punty to assist each of us with the transfer of our piece from the blowing pipe to a solid rod. We learn about what we do outside of the glass class and the knowledge we have “out there” that is useful in the hot room. Two of us are vocalists and I am a musician so we talk about how we think about breathwork, how we form our mouths and our throats, the pressure in our abdomens, and where we feel the breath coming from in performance and in glass blowing. One of us is a fiber optics engineer. Our instructor, Ben, is determined to connect with Marisa, a younger student who was armored and stoic on the first day, through Star Wars Jedi references. Marisa laughs and starts chatting with us this week as a full member of our group.

There are four people. A woman is seated, one man is blowing into a glass pipe, another man is holding a paddle to flatten the end of the cup, and a woman is standing near a furnace taking a picture
It takes a village to make a glass cup

When I bring my garnet frit up to the marver, Ben says, “I know that color looks amazing, but garnet always comes out brown.” Ben is looking out for me. I go back to the shelf and pick out a blue. And then I realize Eric also has a different hue of blue. Marisa has also chosen a blue hue. We gather around each other and compare the blue sample buttons to see if we can tell the difference. While I’m blowing my bubble and making my suckbowl, Marisa quietly goes and picks a green frit. We’ve each chosen a different color, in part in relation to what the others have chosen. 

We know each others’ preferences for working together, our tolerance for fear and play. We’re attuned and harmonizing. We’re each surrendering, allowing our vulnerabilities, developing interdependence, and establishing trust that the others can and know how to help us. We know that the novice glassblower is having their own transcendent moments. While we can’t know how the experience affects each person, we hold the space to witness, honor, and celebrate the significance and potential of their experience all the same.  

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