Skills take shape for young Quaker Valley artist

| Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

An exhibit currently being offered in the Sewickley Public Library is housing works by a diverse group of artists, but one of those artists stands out.

What sets Emma Huckestein — a student at Quaker Valley High School — apart is not the subject matter of her art, but rather the unique method used to create it.

Huckestein, 16, is a hot-glass artist who does her work at the Pittsburgh Glass Center.

Her mother, who also is a glass artist, took Huckestein to the center for the first time when she was 7 years old. She was involved regularly in the Make It Now program, which allows locals with no background in glass work to go there and learn to make basic glass objects such as flowers, eggs and pumpkins, Huckestein said.

Even at such a young age, she was hooked.

“I was just overcome with it,” Huckestein said. “I loved it. I kind of grew up there. We used to go there as much as we could to the lessons and to see demos of artists doing different projects.”

Before long, Huckestein was enrolled in private lessons for glass casting, a process that uses a mold to replicate everyday objects. But it wasn't until high school that she started working with hot glass and differentiated her work from the casting that her mom specializes in.

To turn common glass into artistic flowers or bowls, Huckestein works with 1,000-pound furnaces that reach temperatures of higher than 2,100 degrees — roughly one-fifth the temperature of the sun — to melt the glass. She then uses a long steel pipe to hold the glass and shapes the molten taffy-like substance with a tool resembling large tweezers, she said. The steel pipe must be constantly rotated throughout this process to prevent the glass from falling off the pipe.

“To do one flower, it's all in one day,” Huckestein said. “Depending on how much color I apply to one flower, it can take five to 15 minutes.”

Bowl making is even more complex than flower making, taking up to 45 minutes and requiring the bowl to be transferred between rods in the molding process, but Huckestein prefers the challenge right now, she said.

The Pittsburgh Glass Center, on Penn Avenue in the Friendship neighborhood of Pittsburgh, has open studio hours year-round for artists.

Through the summer, Huckestein will spend most of her Saturday mornings in the shop, which typically climbs over 100 degrees because of the heat of the furnaces.

During the summer weeks, artists can attend classes in the center, taught by internationally renowned artists.

“Sometimes, the classes will incorporate a mixed-media aspect, but it's primarily for glass,” Huckestein said. “I've done one of them, and it was an amazing experience.”

Huckestein took advantage of this opportunity last summer and enrolled in a sand-casting class. Sand is mixed with chemical reactants that cause the sand to become very packable. A form is indented into the sand, which is then filled with glass that takes the shape of the mold, resulting in works that weigh upwards of 75 pounds.

“It's basically like building an inverted sand castle,” Huckestein said.

Her experiences with glass have been a major part of her life up to this point. However, it is still unclear how glass art will fit into the soon-to-be high school junior's future.

“I haven't quite decided what I want to do,” Huckestein said. “I know I want glass to be a part of my life in some way. I just don't know if I want to make a career out of it, or just make it something I do on the side. I have two more years (of high school) left, so I've got a lot of time.”

Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Meida. Reach him at

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