Glassblowing is a 2000-year-old art of shaping molten glass into a plethora of different shapes and designs: plates, cups, jewelry and wine stoppers for example.
Melody Jewitt is the owner and co-founder of Flo Glassblowing, a local business in Little Italy that gives a more personal take on where you get your favourite mug from.
In order to showcase the historic art form to those that are interested in beginning their glassblowing journey, each month Jewitt invites the community to attend a free demonstration of glassblowing. This is where her, along with some assistant’s, create a few different items using classic techniques.
In the centre of the workshop sits a 2100 degree Fahrenheit oven that heats the crowd of more than 65 shoulder-to-shoulder people as they strain for a peek at the molten ball being spun and shaped into a glass flower before them.
“It really was awesome watching how tedious and slow of a process [glassblowing] really is,” says Jasmine Julian, a third-year student at the University of Ottawa who attended the demonstration. “It makes you appreciate all the time and hard work that goes into making even the smallest thing, like a plate or paperweight.”
Jewitt, accompanied by assistants Jeff MacIntosh and Marylou Miles, sculpted liquid glass into a plate, cup and flower during the presentation. It’s a tedious process of using a long tube to spin and manipulate balls of molten repeatedly until the desired shape is made.
The process of shaping the hot liquid glass requires spinning a tube with the glass on the end to start the shape, then blowing into the end of the tube to fill the ball with air. Like using a straw to fill a balloon, but much more complex.
As the audience watched the molten ball lean from one side to the next, the three glass artists worked together to delicately place each petal on the forming flower.
Although Flo does have a variety of different handmade items in the store, their main focus is teaching those looking to begin glassblowing.
While the ability to create has almost no limits in the design sense, the maximum size is based on how big of an oven used. With Flo’s oven, the maximum diameter is roughly 18 inches. The width of the tube used dictates how much glass can be molded at that moment; the wider the tube, the more glass that can be manipulated.
When dealing with the molten glass, there can always be room for errors.
“Most of the burns are from the tools rather than the actual glass,” says Miles during the demonstration. “Part of the assistant’s main job is to arrange the tools so no one is burned because the glass artist is quickly placing things without thought.”
Flo offers all levels of difficulty for their classes, from ‘no-skills required’ to advanced.
“We’ll do all the moving around and anything that might be dangerous. You choose your design and the colouring,” says Jewitt. “You’ll blow the piece and assist with the different tasks, and after a week to solidify, you’ll head home with a piece that can last forever.”
If you’re wanting to pick up a unique skill that has a vast history and culture, but not sure if it’d be right for you, they offer these demonstrations every third week in the month.
“People who are from Ottawa who tell me that it’s boring make me mad because it is not. There are all these cultural activities going on if you just look,” Pearson says.
According to Jewitt, Flo Glassblowing started outside of Ottawa and moved into the city to get more involved with the local scene.
“Originally this whole setup was in Merrickville,” says Jewitt. “We moved into the city to get more involved with the community and to get more people to try it for themselves.”