Skip to main content

North Hills Monthly

Ancient Art of Glassblowing Still Attracting Interest

Dec 30, 2015 12:09PM ● By Jill Cueni Cohen

Photo courtesy Nathan J. Shaulis/Porter Loves Photography.

If you give it a chance, glassblowing could well become your next obsession. Glassmaking is a timeless skill that is still being practiced by artists today to create magnificent, delicate works of art, and there are a few places in Pittsburgh where you can learn this skill.

Located on Penn Ave. in the East End, the Pittsburgh Glass Center offers classes and workshops on glassblowing—from novice to master artists. “Even if you’ve never tried working with glass before, you can make a paperweight in 20 minutes,” said Executive Director Heather McElwee. “Hot glass can be intimidating, but we break down the process and show people how to do it.”

In fact, master artists come from around the world to study at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, which will be celebrating its 15th birthday next year. “The artists’ new work is displayed in our 1,600 sq. ft. gallery,” said McElwee, noting that the center also features glassblowing demonstrations and studio rentals for artists. “We put on unconventional shows for the public and use our gallery to educate and expand people’s thoughts on what glass can do and the types of glass that people have seen.”

McElwee adds that working with glass is more fun than one can imagine. “We always hear people say that once they see glassblowing being done, they have a new appreciation,” she said. “Standing in front of a 2,000-degree furnace, you quickly understand what goes into the process of making the glass objects we live with every day.”

Gary Guydosh, 52, is the owner of Gallery G Glass, located on Liberty Avenue in Lawrenceville. A former photojournalist, Guydosh put down his cameras 19 years ago and opened his first gallery on the South Side. Gallery G Glass hosts artistic glassblowing workshops and people can also come in and work on their own.

“It’s not the consistency of bubble gum, it’s more like hot peanut butter,” described Guydosh, adding that hot glass can take any kind of form or shape that one desires. “When I first started working with glass, I found it relaxing because you have to really concentrate on the glass you’re working with, and you can do so much with it. It takes practice, of course, but you can really let your imagination run wild.”

A very safe and reliable material, glass doesn’t leach any chemicals into whatever it is storing; however, leaded crystal can leach into acid-based foods. “Lead provides a clarity to the glass,” McElwee explained, noting that the Pittsburgh Glass Center uses a soda lime-based glass.

Both Guydosh and McElwee agree that glassmaking is addictive. “It’s a bit of an adrenaline rush to work with this hot, molten material that you’re shaping. It has an ancient feel to it…primal,” explained McElwee.

Guydosh said that that people come in and create homemade gift items, including ornaments, beer mugs and flowers, among other things. “It starts out as a hobby or they pick it up in college, but soon it becomes like a drug,” he said, adding that he believes that his gallery is Pittsburgh’s best kept secret. “It’s cool, and you want to do it again and again.”

Long before the steel industry, Pittsburgh was known as the glass city, according to Guydosh. “Pittsburgh was at the hub of glass production in the country, and glass was probably the city’s first industry,” he explained. Glassmaking in the U.S. has greatly declined since the 1990s as imported glass became cheaper.

“During the 1920s, more than 80 percent of America’s glass was made in the Greater Pittsburgh area,” said McElwee. “Today there aren’t a lot of glass factories left, so we’re trying to continue Pittsburgh’s history of glassmaking by putting it more into artists’ hands.”