With Music Blaring and Temperatures Rising, Kent State Celebrates 50 Years of Glass
At first glance, it looks more like an art studio, make that a hot art studio ... music blaring, temperatures rising and a chatty atmosphere of collaboration.
Anything but a college classroom.
Most wear blue jeans and cotton shirts so they can easily sweat while perfecting their craft.
In this case, glassblowing.
There's no app for this. It’s just an old school approach, manipulating hot glass into bright, glowing globs of melted glass that eventually cool into beautiful sculptures and functional objects such as plates or cups. These days, it’s a technique taught at only a few universities, one of them being Kent State University.
“The fact that a student here at Kent State University can just walk in and take a class and play with glass is, in the history of humankind, a shockingly tiny sliver of time that that has been able to happen,” said Davin Ebanks, assistant professor and head of glass at Kent State's School of Art.
Kent State boasts an internationally recognized School of Art, but not everyone is privy to all that the school has to offer. Interestingly, Kent State is one of the few universities in the world that offers an education in studio glass art.
An accomplished sculptor and head of the glass department, Mr. Ebanks says we are arguably living in what is known as the glass age. And this year marks the 50th anniversary of Kent State’s glass program.
“If you think about it, your phone is a screen of glass, and all the data that’s getting to you is being transferred via fiber optics, which is glass,” Mr. Ebanks said. “The fact that I can get more life as an academic through clear lenses — all that stuff is made possible because of clear glass, and we get to go in there (the hot shop) and play with it like artists.”
The studio glass art movement is relatively new with its origins stemming from the 1960s in nearby Toledo, Ohio. Prior to this era, one could not work with glass unless he or she was an employee in a factory.
Glassblowing is unlike any other art form, he explains. Unlike clay and ceramics, in which most people have some experience with the material, glass is foreign to the overwhelming majority of people. It is a material that cannot be touched, making it all the more enticing.
So one may be wondering — how exactly does one work with glass? And how can a breakable material become so easily manipulated? The answer is in the science.
How It Works: The Science Behind Glass
Glass can be manipulated hot or cold and for different purposes, depending upon the material’s temperature. In the hot shop, however, students are working with glass that is brought to approximately 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, putting the material into a fluid-like state.
It is unique in that it transitions from solid to liquid slowly over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit or more.
“What you have to learn is there’s a difference between ‘Oh my god, that’s hot,’ and ‘I’m actually burning,’” Mr. Ebanks said.
Once the temperature of the glass falls below the annealing point, 960 degrees Fahrenheit, the glass will solidify. In order to continue working with the glass, the artist must reheat the glass in the furnace.
There is a two-minute interval of time that the artist has to work with the glass before it falls below the annealing point and is essentially breakable. The more practice and experience one has, the more he or she can accomplish in those two minutes.
“There’s a constant having to give it more heat and then work on it,” Mr. Ebanks said. “And the better you get, the more you can get done.”
And with a greater understanding of glass, one can rule out the age-old myth we all come across in the history books.
“Just because glass transitions slowly doesn’t mean there’s not a point where it stops moving,” Mr. Ebanks said.
Therefore, the real reason windows in old homes are thicker at the bottom is because of sophisticated craftsmanship, interestingly. It has nothing to do with gravity.
The Glass Program at Kent State
In addition to being one of the oldest in the country, Mr. Ebanks says there are many aspects of the program that he is deeply proud of.
“We have a state-of-the-art facility,” he said. "We’re probably one of the top five in the world in terms of the way it is laid out and the technology and stuff that we have.”
The studio’s hot shop includes large furnaces and a crucible where approximately 300 pounds of glass is melted and maintained at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
But beyond the sophistication of the glass studio, the education that the students are receiving in the glass program at Kent State’s School of Art is unique and full of opportunity.
Because there are many different kinds of glassblowing, once Mr. Ebanks became the head of the department, he saw an opportunity to establish a more holistic glass program at Kent State.
“I’ve got a lot of different backgrounds … and that filters down into the students and to the program,” he said.
Kent State Glass provides a diverse range of courses, which has become a standout quality of the program. And interestingly, these courses are not just accessible to art majors.
Introduction to Glassworking, Flameworking and Sculptural and Kiln Form Glass are three courses any student of any major can take.
Introduction to Glassworking covers the various ways one can work with glass including casting with clay, cutting, grinding and polishing with an emphasis on traditional glassblowing, which takes place in the hot shop.
Given that the studio art glass movement is a relatively new discipline, the percentage of people who have the opportunity to work with glass is statistically an anomaly, he says.
“All my students now walk into a shop and they can understand how that (glass item) was made,” Mr. Ebanks said. “Glass is in a way magic, but it’s a magic that you can learn about in a much more accessible way.”
Students of all majors are welcome and encouraged to take a studio glass art class. Additionally, students who are interested in diversifying their education may apply for a minor in glass.
For additional information on Kent State’s glass program, visit www.kent.edu/art/glass.