Hot Time: Gathering Glassblowers
It’s called Gatherhouse, after the glassblowing term of gathering, or collecting molten glass from the furnace. Here at this Frisco studio and gallery, the name seems to have a second meaning.
Minutes ago I was helping stretch an orange and yellow gob of hot glass into 15-foot rod, no thicker than my little finger. Now that it’s been cooled and broken into four-inch pieces, Brendan Price uses a hand torch to re-heat them. His wife Jana Carrington heats another piece of glass in the furnace.
We’re at Gatherhouse, John and Kate Hudnut’s studio and gallery, because we saw an advertisement for glassblowing demos. We show up thinking we’ll watch the action, but before long several of us are heating, holding, fanning, blowing and participating in the making of a new piece.
John and Kate specialize in glass and offer several types of design services, from advertising and marketing to industrial and environmental design.
Every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday people gather for the glass demos. A young couple parks on the chairs next to John’s workbench, a woman stands for a few minutes with her face pressed against the front shop window and two others soon wander in. Price and Carrington were on a short vacation from Orlando, Fla., when they found their way here. And now, a few days later, they’re taking classes.
John seems a natural at teaching. With clear articulation and a relaxed attitude, he involves all of us, yet never overcomplicates things. It’s one of the reasons he’s had so much success mentoring children at Frisco Elementary School.
“Someone called me up and said, ‘Hey, will you mentor kids?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ I got four girls in here, fourth- and fifth-graders, for a trimester. And, all of a sudden, I had 10 kids who wanted to get in on this,” John says.
“I mentored for several years, and then a local foundation gave me a grant to work with the fifth grade for this recent academic year. We made a 170-pound steel and glass chandelier that’s now hanging under the skylights in the (school). The kids did everything. They poured the steel, the glass, everything. I was just the artist.”
Just the artist? More like the mastermind. He remains amazingly calm as he instructs strangers to work with expensive tools, sensitive materials and a 2,200-degree furnace.
“All those kids can go back to that school and say, ‘I made that.’ It’s there. And it’s going to last until some kid throws a baseball at it. But you’d have to hit it pretty hard. It’s not middle school, so it’ll probably last a long time,” John says.
He admits “It’s terrifying” teaching the kids. “But you just have to suck it up and be brave. I present this very calm demeanor and I give instruction very clearly, and I’ve never had any major issues.”
John’s not having any issues today as he transforms hot glass into a stunning vase with colored, crisscrossing stripes. None of us seems to know what he’ll do next, or what effect each tiny movement will have on the finished piece. We watch in awe, with stupid smiles, knowing that this process is far more complicated than we can imagine.
Earlier, he’d held up a perfectly symmetrical fluted glass that reminded me of margaritas. An even blue line spiraled toward the center of the glass.
“You would not believe how difficult it is to do stuff like this,” John says. “As a designer, I have ideas coming out of everywhere. But as a craftsman, my skills are just catching up with my visions.”
That’s hard to believe, especially considering the shelves full of intricate glasswork that stand at the front of the studio.
With a background in architecture and industrial design, John started blowing glass in 1990. And though glass has “been a portion of the overall income for awhile,” he transitioned into a full-time glass blower about four years ago.
“The first (glass piece) I made, I gave to my mom. And the second thing I made, I sold. I can’t believe that I get to be an artist,” John says.
Looking at his glass, I can believe it. He’s worked in Philadelphia; Corning, N.Y.; Florence, Italy; Paris, and Seattle. He landed in Frisco three years ago and, when asked why he chose Main Street of the Rockies over the Champs-Élysées, he walks outside and gestures to the snow-capped peaks of the Tenmile Range.
“And do you think my car is locked?” he asks. No, it isn’t. And neither is mine.
While John’s work could easily line the shelves of elite galleries in Aspen or Vail, his attitude and openness suits laid-back Summit County. (As do his prices.)
“I can’t think of anything interesting to say,” he says, before getting back to heating and blowing the brightly colored hot glass. “Maybe you can make something up. I’m not a stickler for accuracy.”
With mouths slightly open, the six or so people gathered around John’s workbench watch as he twists a stripe in the piece into a delicate swirl pattern. No need for make-believe here.
If You Go
John and Kate Hudnut open the studio and gallery to the public every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 2 to7 p.m., and by appointment. Visit www.gatherhouse.com for information on glassblowing classes and where to view and purchase John’s work.
From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.