Flames & Sharp Edges

To Be An Artist!

Normally, you don’t imagine that exposing elementary students to cut glass and high temperatures is a good idea. But, the lucky Summer Academy kids in To Be An Artist had the opportunity to safely and creatively work with both at Potekglass in Minneapolis today!

Glassworks studio owner Malcom sat at the end of a large table lined with excited students. In front of each child was a torch (a kind of Bunsen burner turned sideways), a pair of safety glasses, and a metal flint contraption for creating a spark. Safe behind their safety glasses, students practiced striking the flint as Malcom explained that temperatures at or above 2,000 degrees are required to melt glass.

Malcom demonstrated the glass melting process at his station and then started the flames for each student. “This is the tricky part,” he told them. Each student held one end of a long glass “straw” at the edge of the flame to pre-heat it before plunging it into the hottest part. Students learned that putting glass directly into the hottest flame without pre-heating can cause “thermo-shock”, much like an ice cube that cracks when hit with water. The students watched with big eyes as the tips of their glass rods began to glow red and melt.

Harmoor was nervous about the flame at first. “Because fire is really dangerous,” he said. But he relaxed as he watched others melt their glass. “I got a bigger piece of glass than before,” he said, which made it more comfortable to hold. Harmoor’s melting produced several round amber-colored beads that he planned to incorporate into a tile project at the next station.

The second activity at the flame involved “pulling a stringer”. Students again heated their glass straws and, using oversized tweezers, pulled the molten glass into long, thin strings.

In another area of the art studio, Grace and Eleanor stood at a counter experimenting with glass tools following a lesson on glass cutting. Eleanor held a clear piece of glass with pliers and snapped off a clean-edged piece. “We’re just practicing cutting glass right now,” she said.

Grace created precise squares of glass using the special tools. “I made four ‘squarey’ shapes,” she said. “It’s so satisfying!”

Jocelyn took a bit longer to warm up to the cutting tools. She held up the “running pliers”. “I’m scared to use the big pliers,” she laughed. Jocelyn had drawn a blocky cat shape onto the paper surface of her work space. “I’m drawing a cat so I can try to make one out of glass,” she said. She held a large piece of clear glass over one of the cat blocks to size it and then cut a line using a scoring knife. With careful pressure, she cleanly cut the glass into the desired shape.

Veronica worked on a complex mosaic in shades of green and blue. She first drew the pattern on the work surface and then began cutting glass to fit the shapes. “I chose a mosaic because you can do lots of different colors and decide what goes where,” she said. The individual pieces of her mosaic will be placed onto a white glass tile and then melted together, she said.

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