The rest of the country may be sweltering in the summer’s triple-digit heat index, but Abby Gitlitz has been just fine working in quadruple-digit temperatures. That’s because Gitlitz is a glass artist, and glass only becomes malleable at about a thousand degrees.
Using Heat To Stir A Solid
“My name is Abby Gitlitz, and I’m a glass artist; I do glass-blowing, stained glass, glass-casting, glass-fusing, painting on glass. If it can be made out of glass, I make it.”
Glass starts to move, Gitlitz says, at about 1,000°, but it moves very slowly. When she blows glass, Gitlitz uses a furnace that’s 2,100°.
“Glass is just so luscious when it’s hot. It luminesces and it has these glorious colors and you just want to touch it. But of course, it’s fifteen hundred degrees, so in real life, you don’t want to touch it.”
Not until it’s cooled, anyway.
Fauna And Flora Of All Colors And Stripes
But then, Gitlitz’s art retains its luminous quality out of the kiln, too. Her home is filled with art made of glass. A stained-glass jellyfish hangs from a window; a blown goblet on a chicken foot stem perches on a bookshelf. And on shelves up to the ceiling in the garage that doubles as her studio are hundreds of blown glass pumpkins wrapped in newspaper.
“So this is what a glass pumpkin looks like. It’s heavy glass–it’s about the size of a large grapefruit–a large grapefruit if you’d sat on it. It’s got twelve ribs or ridges running down the side, and I make them in every color. So I’ve got purple ones, green ones, red ones, orange ones, pink ones, striped ones, polka-dotted ones, plaid ones, you name it. I discovered early on that I got bored making orange ones.”
“So on top of the body of the pumpkin is then attached a stem. This particular stem is a shiny, metallic gold color, and it squiggles and wiggles all over itself.”
Stems are easier to make than the bodies of the pumpkins, which makes them perfect for glass artists who are just starting out. Gitlitz’s garage isn’t just a studio and a gallery and a storage space; it’s also a classroom.
“I’ve taught little kids, I’ve taught people who are completely deaf, I’ve taught people who are pretty much blind, I’ve taught mobility-impaired people. If you can blow a bubble in bubble gum, you can blow glass. If you can be outside in Indiana in August, you can stand the heat of blowing glass.”
Taking The Long View
Gitlitz is as ambitious a teacher as she is enthusiastic. In part, that’s because she can only teach so much in her garage. Her kiln gets hot enough to make stained glass, but in order to teach glass-blowing she brings her students to a studio in Indianapolis. it’s fun, she says–they carpool, and everybody brings something for a potluck lunch–but it isn’t what she wants the long term.
“My eventual goal is to have a studio that’s open-access, that we work with IU and run classes through the art department there, work with Ivy Tech, run classes through the art department there, have it open to the public, but right now there’s just nothing around. Owning a kiln is not bad, but to own a glass-blowing studio is expensive. So to really make it work, it needs to be something where everybody can come together and work on it.”
That’s what the pumpkins are for. On October 15, 250 blown-glass pumpkins will be laid out on Bloomington’s Courthouse lawn. With the sale of these pumpkins, which run from $25-$200, Gitlitz is hoping to raise at least $8,000.
Pumpkins And Community
“The best way that I know to raise money is to make the glass pumpkins–partially because glass pumpkins are gorgeous, partially because people will buy them–but also because anybody can make a glass pumpkin. So it’s drawing people in. It’s not just selling them, but it’s also bringing inexperienced people in to help make the pumpkins and getting them hooked on glass.”
So Gitlitz is simultaneously creating community with her glass pumpkins, and fundraising with those pumpkins to help extend that community further.