To celebrate my autumn birthday, my sweet and perceptive husband booked us a session with a master glass blower in Lombard who has a glass furnace in his backyard - Mr. Robert Lee Fritz. What an amazing gift!
Get ready to read the word "glass" a hundred times.
Brandon served as my trusty assistant and documentarian.
Soon after arriving, Robert and I brainstormed what creations to make. My first idea, of course, was a pineapple. He laughed at the unexpected selection, but agreed. Most people choose to make a simple candy dish or egg-shaped paperweight.
Robert created the glass forms above using a mold.
The pineapple would be more difficult to make, he said, because it required two pieces of glass stuck together in just the right way – the yellow body and green leaves connected after. I told him I was up for the challenge.
Using a metal pole, we started by pulling a glob of new glass from a pool of molten glass in the 2000+ degree furnace. During the three-hour personal class, Robert and I made two solid-glass pineapples.
The first pineapple was a test to learn the skills of sculpting a solid piece of boiling-hot glass into an egg shape and rolling it in a mixture of colored glass fragments called frit.
Then I forcefully punched divots into the soft glass with metal tools to create texture.
Finally, we dipped the form back into the molten glass pool to add an outer layer of clear glass to encase the egg form and capture the air bubbles you see here.
In the second step, we gathered and bonded green glass to the top of the egg with intense heat, and used heavy metal scissors to cut the leafy segments. This took some serious hand strength.
It also took several rounds of reheating the glass in the furnace to ensure it was pliable, because it began to cool down and harden as soon as the metal tools touched it.
I love how it came out!
This pineapple figurine was our second attempt, after I had perfected my technique. Robert kept the original, no doubt to show other students and talk about that weird pineapple-loving girl who took his class.
For our second creation, he suggested we make his signature piece – a spiral Christmas tree. Robert makes dozens of colorful trees every year to sell and give away to friends and family - here is his commission webpage if you want one for yourself.
When I said I wanted to make a pink Christmas tree, and explained my all-pink Christmas plans, he was tickled by the unusual idea and we got to work.
We made two little blown glass pink Christmas trees, a different process than the solid glass sculptures. The skill of blowing through the metal pipe to inflate the liquified glass was so much more difficult that I anticipated.
Here I am filing down the bottom edge of the completed tree so we can successfully break it off from the metal pole.
Same as the first time, our first tree (on the right) was a test to learn the glass blowing technique. Since he knew he was keeping the original, Robert chose a more purple color.
This box is called an annealing oven. It slowly cools down the hot glass from over 900 degrees to a touchable temperature over the course of several hours. Any faster and the glass may shatter.
This delicate blush blown glass Christmas tree with a white spiral was my second attempt, and turned out just as I’d hoped, with a tiny crimped ball adorning the top.