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The Dangerous Art of “Hot Blown Glass”

Lisa Pelo of "Hot Blown Glass" in Clayton, Indiana enjoys the fast-paced creativity involved in creating her glass art

  • Lisa Pelo shaping on the blowpipe

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    Photo: Mark Chilla

    Lisa Pelo of "Hot Blown Glass" shaping a glass vessel with wet newspaper, while blowing a bubble inside the vessel using a blowpipe

  • Blow torches

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    Photo: Mark Chilla

    Pelo and her assistant Clayton Benefiel use blow torches on the almost completed vessel

  • Shaping the early vessel

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    Photo: Mark Chilla

    At an earlier stage in the process, Pelo shapes the molten glass on the end of the blowpipe

  • Benefiel at the Glory Hole

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    Photo: Mark Chilla

    Benefiel heats up the glass vessel in the "Glory Hole"

  • Turning the glass

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    Photo: Mark Chilla

    Pelo turns the glass on the end of the blowpipe in order to make it symmetrical

  • Rolling the glass into the frit

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    Photo: Mark Chilla

    Benefiel rolls the vessel on the marver (the steel table) into the frit (the glass flakes). The frit will add a speckled pattern onto the final product

  • Shaping and flames with the cork

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    Photo: Mark Chilla

    Pelo shapes the vessel using two cork boards, which briefly ignite into flames with each pass.

  • Nearly complete vessel

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    Photo: Mark Chilla

    Pelo and Benefiel exam the nearly completed vessel. The neck has just been shaped with a pair of pliers.

  • Completed vessel

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    Photo: Mark Chilla

    A similar completed vessel, with three flower decorations attached, is on display in Pelo's cold shop

  • Murrine paperweights

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    Photo: Mark Chilla

    Pelo displays two paperweights with decorative murrine inlay. She'll be demonstrating how to create similar paperweights at the Columbus ArtFEST workshops

  • Pete the dog

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    Photo: Mark Chilla

    The shop dog, Pete, looks on at the glass-blowing process while sitting in the sun

Event Information

Columbus ArtFEST and Meltdown

A juried art show showcases the talents of nearly 100 artists from 16 states. The festival kicks off with the "Meltdown" event, on Friday, August 22nd at 7pm in Mill Race Park, hosted by the Columbus Area Arts Council. This event features an iron pour with Jim Brenner, and glass-forming workshops with Lisa Pelo of "Hot Blown Glass"


On Washington Street and Fourth Street in downtown Columbus, Indiana.

Saturday, August 23rd from 10 to 5 PM and Sunday, August 24th from 11 to 5 PM

Free

Columbus ArtFEST

Meltdown: Iron Pour and Glass-Forming

Art and danger are two things that don’t necessarily go hand in hand, but inside the hot shop of Lisa Pelo’s “Hot Blown Glass,” danger is all part of the process.

During the fast-paced, loud, and very hot process of creating a nearly two-foot tall decorative glass vessel, Pelo’s assistant Clayton Benefiel’s pants started to smoke. He laughed it off as if it were all in a day’s work.

Pelo will be giving glass-blowing demonstrations and workshops on how to make glass paperweights at the “Meltdown” event sponsored by the Columbus Area Arts Council. The event is part of the fifth annual Columbus ArtFEST, which hits the streets of Columbus on Saturday and Sunday, August 23rd and 24th. The ArtFEST will feature the designs of over 100 local, regional, and national artists.

Inside Pelo’s hot shop, pounds of molten glass sit in the furnace. That sits next to an intimidating piece of equipment affectionately called the “glory hole,” an enormous oven where the vase is heated and reheated in order to be shaped.

“They’re both at easily 2100 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Pelo. The furnace has to run constantly because, according to Pelo, heating up the glass to the correct temperature is a process that could take several hours or even days.

The glass-blowing process was very involved. First, there’s the “gather,” which includes adding the molten glass in the furnace to the end of a blowpipe, a five-foot long steel tube. This process happens several times, and the vessel grows in size each time

The piece is constantly turning so as not to fall off the end of the blowpipe. It’s being shaped with various tools, including a marver (a large steel-topped table, used for shaping and cooling), various pliers and steel tongs, cork boards, and wet newspaper.

It’s also being decorated with “frit,” small glass flakes, to give the final piece a decorative sparkle. During this entire process, a bubble was being blown inside the vessel using a long straw attached to the end of the blowpipe.

Pelo said, “When you work with glass, it looks to be very boring stuff, but you gotta be very precise at it.”

The entire process of putting this vessel together took about 45 minutes.

The turning process, which took up the majority of the process, is deceptively difficult. “Sometimes when you watch skilled glassblowers work, it looks really, really easy. But it’s not. It’s very difficult,” Benefiel said.

The last several minutes were fast-paced, and during this time, many of the big artistic decisions were made about the final shape of the piece.

For Pelo, having to make artistic decisions on the fly is the most exciting part of her job.

“When it gets to these points, when we were at the end of that bigger piece, the decision is right now,” Pelo said. “And I like making the decision right now.”

Mark Chilla

Mark Chilla, originally from Atlanta, Ga., moved to Bloomington in 2007, and is currently pursuing his doctorate in music theory from Indiana University. He has taught various music theory courses at IU and Butler University, and serves as the host of All Things Considered and the music trivia show Ether Game at WFIU. He enjoys film, learning new instruments and the Beatles.

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