Well, fall really came and went, didn't it?! It feels like we went from picking apples and pumpkins to decking the halls in a blink of an eye. While many orchards typically close down shop for the winter, one local Eau Claire orchard is stocked and ready for the hustle and bustle of the holidays. The Glass Orchard, while it is a literal orchard, is also a local glass blowing studio. In the fall, visitors meander through the maze of apple trees to gather the fruits of the orchard's labor and shop throughout the store for glass blown pumpkins and other local, handmade goods. But, once it gets chilly, they get busy in the glass studio making glass ornaments and other holiday decor pieces too.
But, these glass blown gifts don't just show up over night. Days of hard work and pure talent go in to each and every ornament and glass tree making each piece more unique than the last. Don't believe us? We can talk you through the entire process! Buckle up; we're going to learn about all the sweat behind glass blowing (no, really... it gets really hot in the studio).
Step 1: Gather the glass
The first thing they do when Dawn and Jon, co-owners of The Glass Orchard, are working on a piece is heat up the pipe to make sure that it is glowing so when they go in the furnace to gather the molten glass, it'll stick on the end. Depending on the piece they work on, this could be the first gather of many.
Step 2: Marvering the glass
They take their gathered glass over to the marvering table to marver the gather to not only help shape it but also to control the heat throughout the glass. It may be hard to see all of the subtleties from a spectator's point of view, but there is actually a lot of finesse that goes into this step. It takes artists many years to learn the right way to work the glass and this is important because if you don't do it the right way, you will not get a clean looking glass form.
Step 3: Mold the glass
When the marvering is done, they place the glass on the end of their pipe into a mold that helps them shape their piece into what it is meant to be (i.e. pumpkin, tree, ornament, etc.).
Step 4: Shape the glass
This is where the blowing part comes into play. After the glass has been molded, they work together to inflate the glass by blowing into the pipe and using other tools to help shape the piece into what it needs to be. This can be anything from metal tools to woodblocks to wet newspaper.
Step 5: Add some finishing touches to the glass
In the case of creating ornaments, that finishing touch would be the loop at the top of the ornament. After the glass is shaped into the circular, bubble shape of a traditional ornament, that glass is broken off the pipe and placed down to cool. The cooling process happens rapidly so, it is pivotal in glass blowing to move quickly because cooling too fast could mean that the glass will crack. While the ornament is broken off, the next gather of glass to make the loop is ready to be put on top of the ornament, is shaped, rounded out and then ready to go for the final step.
Step 6: Cool the glass
Once the piece has all its parts and is created to what it needs to be, it is placed into an annealer (a.k.a a kiln) to cool it down in a controlled state so it doesn't crack. This could take up to 18+ hours until the piece is ready to be taken out of the kiln and brought to their shop to sell.
There you have it: a very basic version of the process behind glass blowing. We're not the experts here, though! If you have an interest in glass blowing and would like to learn more, feel free to connect with Dawn and Jon, the co-owners of The Glass Orchard and Glass Artists. They would gladly have a conversation with you about the art of glass blowing and the glass classes they offer.
If you want to purchase some ornaments to take home to hang on your Christmas tree this holiday season or a glass tree or even a snowman to decorate your home, The Glass Orchard will be holding their holiday sale on November 14-15, 2020 as well as November 21-22, 2020. They also are open Friday-Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm through the holiday season if you'd like to explore their shop for other glass and local goods to cross off items from your holiday shopping list. Make this the "hap, hap happiest season of all" during the most wonderful time of the year with a trip to The Glass Orchard!