By Olivia Gard
Ames247 Staff Writer
Industrially-made glass products have become the norm, and so the general public seeks out and expects perfection when they buy cups, bowls or decorations. However, the Gaffer’s Guild, located in Sweeney Hall at Iowa State, teaches students and community members the art of glass-blowing, a learning experience that takes time, dedication and patience. Members of the club see first-hand the challenges and rewards that come with the art form.
People wishing to begin glass-blowing in Gaffer’s Guild are required to take a beginner’s class in the studio, which is usually taught by two experienced club members who introduce the technical processes and other aspects of the club. Normally, two classes of eight are taught a semester, with a total of 16 learners, said Ben Linn, senior in biochemistry and president of the club.
Glass is first melted down in the studio’s furnace from its original chunky form, called cullet. When it is time to create a piece, the punty, a long metal rod, is used to gather glass from the furnace and wrap it into a mass on the end of the rod. Glass in this state is reminiscent of very stiff honey, said Max Marple, senior in materials engineering and vice president of the club.
The glassblower can then bring the punty to the “Glory Hole” oven to reheat the glass, and then to the marver, the metal slab where molten glass is placed. The paddle, shears, and blocks, a rounded scoop-looking tool, are common tools used for shaping the glass to its desired form. The blowpipe, a kind of hollow version of the punty rod, is used for actual “blowing.” The blower will push air through the blowpipe and into the glass in order to create a bubble inside the material. When the glass is in its desired form, it is put in the annealer, a large programmable oven, where the temperature adjusts and cools down the glass a uniform rate.
Club members sometimes join up for projects, especially ones that require advanced techniques. A gaffer-assistant pair, in which the gaffer directs the project and the assistant helps, is beneficial to both participants, Marple said. People have many different styles and ways of working, so joining with another person, or several other people, is a good experience for all involved. And, although failure is an unavoidable part of learning glass-blowing, Marple said you experience “more satisfaction once you work hard on a particular design and then actually make it.”
Heather Whittlesey, graduate student, said she learned different skills than she would have ever expected to in her experience at the club. As treasurer of Gaffer’s Guild, Whittlesey completes a lot of paperwork and bookkeeping, an analytical job which is very different from her usual interests. She said she never thought she would like something like this, but actually “really loves” her behind-the-scenes work in the club. In this way, the guild can provide a wider range of opportunities than people might assume.
The club fees for beginning members are $120 for students and $240 for non-students, with another $90 to $180 each semester for continued membership. The studio, where all community members and students can have continued access, is a rare opportunity. Gaffer’s Guild holds three sales a year, where active members contribute at least half of their glass objects to be sold. The money goes to material and upkeep for the studio equipment. The next sale will be held during Veishea Village on Saturday of Veishea week.