Kent State Finds Glassblowing Solutions During the Pandemic

Glass students using the foot pedal with face coverings on to blow glass
Navigating the pandemic restrictions in all of the School of Art studio art classes this semester has been challenging to both faculty and students. A large part of the adaptation is the requirement for everyone across campus to maintain 6 feet of physical distance when possible and wear face coverings at all times. All of the face-to-face classes had some adjusting to do, but most notably one studio art discipline has had to completely change an integral part of its process. Glassblowing presents an immense hurdle for glass artists considering the breath - the way the COVID-19 virus is likely often spread from person to person - is what is used to blow bubbles into and form shapes out of the molten glass. Davin Ebanks, assistant professor and head of glass, discovered a solution to this problem with help from a Kent State alumnus. 

When it comes to specialized problem solving like this, the glass community is a great resource. Ebanks received the design outline for a pneumatic foot pedal glassblowing system that hooks up to compressed air from glass alumnus Andy Bixler, BFA, ’10, who is the hotshop tech at a public-access hotshop on the West Coast. This apparatus ensures that nobody needs to remove their masks during class by providing a steady stream of air controlled by the gaffer (the person creating the glass object).

“Andy modified a more complicated system designed by The Studio at the Corning Museum of Glass to basically do the same thing. Corning’s system costs about $350 to build, ours is under $100. I had been casting around for a solution so that we could blow without removing masks and this seemed the most flexible. We also use hand pumps for our intro students, since it’s less cumbersome than having a hose semi-permanently attached to your blowpipe,” said Ebanks. He also uploaded an instructional video to YouTube so that other glass studios can create their own. 

Davin Ebanks demonstrates how to make a pneumatic foot pedal glassblowing system on YouTube

Graduate teaching assistant Katie Burkett finds that the system works as a good substitute for human breath. “I do believe it works as good as using breath, if not better in certain ways. Using the foot pedal frees up the assistant to the gaffer, so they can help with other tasks and there is less of a delay when communicating with your assistant on when you want air/them to blow,” she said. 

What will hotshops look like after the pandemic? Both Ebanks and Burkett see a future where the foot pedal and/or hand pumps are used on a regular basis. “Studios where people blow glass solo will use them as being more practical than a mouth-operated blowhose. They are far more hygienic than sharing mouthpieces in public access studios or educational studios,” said Ebanks. This more hygienic practice is not only valuable during a global pandemic, it has a use during flu season or when someone in the studio feels sick so that the typical method of sanitizing blowtubes with rubbing alcohol doesn’t have to be the only option.

Read more in this Record Courier article. For more videos from our glass studio, please visit the Kent State Glass YouTube channel. 

UPDATED: Friday, December 09, 2022 01:32 PM