LAYTONSVILLE, Md. (AP) — Art of Fire is the largest studio in the Mid-Atlantic region with classes for students on various levels. The studio is a converted dairy barn in north Montgomery County.

Bruce Ferguson, an artist and instructor with Art of Fire who lives in Virginia, comes to the studio to have a break from his everyday life with the Federal Aviation Administration in Leesburg, Va.

“You don’t have to think about your everyday life,” Holcombe said while Ferguson instructed. “Glassblowing is one of the ways he decompresses. It also fills that creative seed we all have.”

The studio offers classes at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. Each session starts at the beginning of the month, year-round except in July and August, and continues for four weeks with three-hour sessions each time.

With two students per teacher, each person receives one-on-one assistance and guidance. They start off working with clear glass and add color later, Holcombe explained. That way, beginners can better see and understand the glass and its properties while it’s hot. Plus, they have a strong knowledge base as they create pieces with color.

“The hardest thing for them to learn is to keep the lathe turning,” said Theda Hansen, Holcombe’s assistant, co-owner and wife. “People are used to stopping, fiddling with some part, and going back to turning. But you can’t do that with glass.”

Ferguson said he’s never had a student ask him how slow they should turn the glass. He explained the artist needs to change how they think about the turning. It isn’t about turning the blowing iron and pipes quickly; it’s about taking one’s time.

“No matter how skilled you are, it takes time,” Hansen said.

Occasionally during the class, students hear a loud popping sound. Cooling blowing irons or pipes stand in buckets while glass breaks off from each tool. Each time a piece of glass breaks off, it pops.

“Glass doesn’t adhere to cold tools,” Holcombe said.

Instructors encourage students to explore the art form, but also not to be hard on themselves. The instructors are Holcombe, Todd Hansen, Ferguson and Josh Ries.

“Cut yourself some slack. Nobody does this right the first time,” Ferguson said while working with Diana Zinkle from Washington, D.C. “Celebrate the fact that you got a bubble in it the first time.”

Fellow student Abbey Engleman of Potomac looked on as Zinkle worked and said, “She’s definitely setting the standards high.”

Getting the right-sized bubble can be difficult and Kathy Dehn of Damascus remembers it well. She and her husband, Jon Dehn, took the beginners’ class together a few years ago.

If the glassblower isn’t careful, all their work could be for not.

“You can actually pop it like bubble gum,” Ferguson said while instructing Engleman and Zinkle.

“It was really worth it — the time and money,” Kathy said.

“We should have gone back when (the intermediate class) was available.”

With two students in each class, the instructor demonstrates a technique and each person takes a turn. At points, it can be like a dance. The artist has access to all tools and the other can watch.

“You have to square dance around the bench,” Engleman said.

This past Saturday, the studio hosted three separate groups — beginner and intermediate classes plus a pair of more experienced glassblowers. All three groups worked at three different 2,400-degree furnaces.

Instructors have a course syllabus and want to make sure each student understands the process to make the best pieces possible.

“I’ve tried glass classes at other studios in the area and really like this one the best,” Zinkle said.

The Frederick News-Post
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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