Mind Blowing Glass

Porter, who is a former doctor of osteopathic medicine in the Sparrow Health System, has been blowing glass for more than 50 years and opened his studio in Williamston in 2007.

“My father was a research chemist and worked with a gentleman who was a scientific glass blower. I would tag along with my father to work and was just fascinated with the glass blowing process. My dad’s co-worker worked with Pyrex glass to create small figurines and do small art pieces,” Porter says.

Porter, who got his first torch when he was 12-years-old, has been learning the subtleties of glass blowing ever since. It’s a profession that requires great patience and creativity.

“It is a very delicate process. One has to be able to tolerate failure and disappointment. When I first started I would lose over 50 percent of the pieces … I suffer through less of that now, but it can be frustrating. Still to this day some things go horribly wrong. We call them floor models when they end up on the floor. Though sometimes you have happy accidents,” Porter chuckles.

Glass is basically sand melted by fire, Porter explains. The soda lime glass Fireworks Glass Studio works with includes sand, soda ash and lime. It is the most prevalent type of glass used often for windowpanes, and glass containers for beverages and food. Several other agents added to the glass to make it melt at a little lower temp and help make it clear.

Working with the hot glass from a gas furnace, which has a reservoir of molten glass kept at 2,100 degrees, also requires great focus and diligence. Things begin to take shape after the colors are added.

Porter and studio manager, Rhonda Baker, consider themselves colorists, he said. “We think of the design for the vessel or piece we are making and then use color to enhance it. We have over 300 colors to choose from.”

The blow pipe is a hollow pipe that uses air blown by mouth through a hose and into the piece of glass to shape it. The glass is inflated to the correct thinness, Porter says.

Porter describes Fireworks Glass Studio as a hybrid of a studio and gallery. The front of the store is dedicated to displaying the hand-blown glass pieces for sale, items like brilliantly colored bowls and vases, plates, paperweights, tumblers, fluted flowers, goblets and ornaments for Christmas and other seasonal pieces.

The rear portion of the studio space is the hot glass working area. And people are welcome to come and watch anytime, Porter said. “We do ask them to wear eye protection if they are close enough, but they can watch and ask questions.”

The studio does commission work, too.

“We often are asked to accommodate customers in terms of their choice of color to match things already in the house. We do functional things too, like light globes and shades. We can do a variety of things on a commission basis,” Porter explained. “Repair work is hard though. People bring us pieces that are family heirlooms and they want repairs, but unfortunately, that is not something we are set up to do really.”

Glassblowing requires an extensive collection of equipment and tools. Porter estimates it would cost a minimum of $100,000 to recreate the furnace and equipment he has. Be mindful that the equipment needed to do glass blowing is quite finicky and requires a great deal of maintenance, too.

Porter describes himself as “more artist than businessman,” and says the studio exists primarily for him to make glass. “That is it in its simplest form. I sell the glass only because it helps support the studio. I don’t make 3,000 of these and 200 of those to sell,” Porter says. “My business philosophy is to sell what we make so we can make more pieces. The studio breaks even and I’m happy with that. When people purchase things it makes you feel good. It’s an affirmation that we are doing good work.”

Fireworks Glass Studio, which offers glass blowing lessons and classes, is right at home in Williamston, nestled amidst the city’s emerging artist community, Porter says. The city still has a small town feel with a variety of antique shops and several nationally recognized potters.

“Williamston is a terrific place for us. It’s a very supportive city that includes an emphasis on community theater and arts,” Porter adds. “This is the perfect location.”

Fireworks Glass Studio
119 S. Putnam St.
Williamston, Michigan 48895
Phone: (517) 655-4000
www.www.fireworksglassstudios.com

Article by Randy J. Stine | Photo by Thomas Shaver

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