A few weeks ago, on that last blistering hot September weekend we had here in the Twin Cities, I tried out a new and interesting experience.
Throughout my childhood, I knew that my mom was a very creative and crafty person, and she had a lot of handcrafting hobbies she became very skilled at. For a long time, she was a master at basket weaving, spending a lot of time at the Minnesota Textile Center and even running my whole boy scout troop through the basics for that coveted Basket Weaving merit badge. In recent years, though, she has become obsessed with fused glass.
To celebrate a recent milestone birthday, we thought it would be fun to learn some new crafting skills with her and bought us all a Groupon for a glass paperweight making class at Foci, a local non profit celebrating the medium of glass. In the end, it was a fun and rewarding activity I would definitely recommend.
Foci has been present at numerous local art events and festivals, demonstrating the tools and skill of glassblowing to the community, including the Northern Spark, so the name was definitely on my radar and I jumped at the chance to share the new experience.
Foci (pronounced, we discovered, as “fo-sigh”), the home of the Minnesota Center for Glass Arts, is housed in a repurposed and sprawling old factory building in the Como neighborhood of Minneapolis, near the Mid City Industrial. Displaying the finished products of member artists as well as the artists at work in the studios Foci provides, it is a pretty cool place. I always like to see such urban ruins being put to new creative and collaborative uses. The only issue is the accessibility, which the organization is trying to change. Currently, the building is not ADA accessible, with two sets of steep stairs being the only way to access the studios and glass working areas.
While the weather was stifling outside, the glowing infernos inside the brick building made the interior even hotter. If you are taking a class, bring plenty of water. We signed up for a Paperweight Experience and with the assistance of a professional glassblower we got a quick rundown of the tools and techniques we would be using to make our very own fused glass paperweight. With the temperatures and heavy metal implements being used, it was great to have such a thorough and helpful guide to using them, assisting us in some of the somewhat intimidating tasks.
With kilns firing away at almost 2000 degrees fahrenheit, we were assisted in grabbing a blob of molten glass. After this, it was up to us to choose our colors among varying shades and opacities of glass fragments (or frit), fusing into our glass and using pliers and tongs to shape our white hot blobs to our desired shapes before adding another dollop of molten glass. This we shaped into the final form of our future paperweight using a moistened wooden cup or our own hands protected by a wet newspaper. Feeling the extreme heat radiating off your work, hearing and feeling the hiss and pop of steam coming off the newspaper as you manipulate the odd consistency of the glass, smelling the slight woodsmoke smell, was a quite intense experience. Once we detached our finished spheres or cones of glass from the pipe and stamped our initials on it, we felt quite accomplished. We then just had to wait forty eight hours for the glass to cool completely for us to take our creations home and see their final appearance, as the temperature of creation makes everything glow orange or red.
A few days later, as the temperatures dropped, we came in to collect our own handmade paperweights and were pretty gratified by the results.
All in all, it was a very exciting, if sweaty, experience that I’d recommend to anyone looking for a fun, creative experience.