Florence teacher learns the art of glassblowing with grant support
Michele Allen, a Lester Elementary School art teacher, took a glassblowing course this summer at Pilchuck Glass School, an international center for glass art education in Washington. The course was made possible through funding from the Florence Regional Arts Alliance Quarterly Grants Program, which is funded in part by the South Carolina Arts Commission, Honda of South Carolina and the John and Susan Bennett Memorial Arts Fund of the Coastal Community Foundation of S.C.
Article and photo above by Deborah Swearingen
FLORENCE, S.C. – With the help of a quarterly grant from the Florence Regional Arts Alliance, a Lester Elementary School art teacher took a glassblowing course this summer at Pilchuck Glass School, an international center for glass art education in Washington.
In the 17-day July course, taught by Japanese artist Rui Sasaki, Michele Allen learned basic glassblowing as well as creative applications and finishing processes.
Of particular interest to Allen were the optical properties of glass in installations using video and sound. She said she enjoyed experimenting with shadows and light projections.
“I started doing some video series and blowing different forms and sandblasting them, having some of them mirrored or clear finish to see how video projections would appear on the actual surface of the glass and on the wall behind,” she said.
Pilchuck Glass School was founded in 1971 by renowned artist Dale Chihuly.
Allen, who entered into her fourth year today at Lester , can remember being fascinated by glassblowing as early as elementary school.
“When I was a child, every year we’d go to Arts Alive (now Arts International), and I can remember one year they had a guy outside of the (Francis Marion University) Hyman Fine Arts Center blowing glass,” she said. “I remember my mom had to come pull me away. … It’s so interesting to watch.”
But she took her interest to the next level last year after attending the South Carolina Art Educators Conference in Beaufort. From there, she applied to a craft school in North Carolina called Penland, where she took a glassblowing course in the summer of 2015.
“I really enjoyed it, but it just whet my appetite,” Allen said. “It wasn’t enough. So I started investigating other places where I could try to go and further my education as far as the glass goes.”
Glassblowing is a technical process. It involves inflating molten glass into a bubble with the aid of a blowpipe.
When the glass is heated up, it reaches temperatures of more than 2,000 degrees. Allen said it’s important to remain calm and aware while glassblowing.
“You have to be very, very careful,” Allen said, showing off a small burn on her arm from her time at Pilchuck. “… It’s almost like a dance, because you have a partner with you to help. There are other people working at different benches at the studio, so you constantly have to be aware of everybody around you and what they’re doing as you’re working with the hot material, as well.”
Allen hopes to continue her studies in the Pee Dee but first has to find a studio where she can work. Some day she would love to take after her first glassblowing instructor Jason Minami, who leads a nonprofit organization called GlassRoots that aims to teach young people the art of glassblowing.
“I would like to possibly do something like that one day where I could actually transfer this knowledge and teach other people,” Allen said. “But I’ve got to get good enough first.”