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Pittsburgh Glass Center's ornament class is hot stuff

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, 10:33 a.m.

This is one hot date night. And a chance to add a new bauble or two the holiday collection.

Couples (kids are welcome too) spend time together creating a one-of-a-kind ornament with hot, molten glass at the Pittsburgh Glass Center in the Garfield-Friendship neighborhood. It is part of the Make-It-Now classes offered at the center.

The center is a nonprofit, public access school, gallery and state-of-the-art glass studio dedicated to teaching, creating and promoting glass art. World-renowned artists come here to make studio glass art. People come here to take a class, explore the contemporary gallery and watch live hot glass demonstrations. Classes and workshops are available all year long.

On this night, the sessions were about 15 minutes long. It’s best to just walk in. The next ornament making class is Dec. 8.

“Some people are put off by the heat, but it’s not that bad,” says Travis Rohrbaugh, an instructor at the glass center who was assisting with ornament making on Nov. 30 and who is also an artist who creates duck ornaments.

“You have to be aware that there is hot glass all around you. But when you see what you’ve made it is cool because each one will be a little different. And you can say you used your own air to blow it up. Glass is such an interesting material to work with. It can break, but that’s part of the challenge to working with it to make sure you are careful and it doesn’t break.”

How it’s done

Intriqued? Here’s what you need to know:

Before you begin, you are handed a pair of safety glasses inside what’s called the Hot Shop. Then you take a blow pipe and place part of it inside a furnace that’s 2,125 degrees Farenheit to gather glass. The furnaces are on 24/7. (Most weeks they go through 800-1,000 pounds of glass.) Attendees select a color or colors from 12 choices of crushed glass, including red and black, called frit, and decide on speckled design versus a swirled look. The hues are rolled onto the glass. During the process, the ornament is placed in a reheating chamber called a glow hole. These chambers are turned on and off like an oven. The colors will melt and the glass is then rolled on a cold steel marver table. One member of the couple blows into the pipe while the other holds it to expand the glass. Then it’s taken to a knock-off station where it is dislodged from the pipe and extra glass is put on top of it and a loop hook is formed on the top of the ornament using tweezers.

It is then placed in an annealing oven for 12-14 hours — so you can’t take the ornament home that day. It initially appears a bright orange, but don’t worry, it will look different when you return to pick it up. Glass making is addicting, inspiring and f un, says Paige Ilkhanipour, marketing diretor at the glass center.

“Anyone can do it,” she says. “Don’t be intimidated by the heat…give it a try.”

This is something all ages can do, agrees Rohrbaugh.

“And it’s an opportunity to engage people in a process they might not know anything about,” he says.

High praise

Making a glass ornament was a perfect date night for Michelle and Rebekah Shanaberger of Brentwood. It was a different thing to do. They say they heard about the glass center on Facebook.

“This was more than just going to dinner and a movie,” says Michelle Shanaberger after the class on Nov. 30. “It was a learning experience, and when we were done we had an ornament that we can come back and pick up and have forever.”

Both said they would come back again.

“This was really a different way to spend a Friday night,” says Rebekah Shanaberger. “It’s a hands-on activity, and we can say ‘we made it.’”

“I was so impressed with how they work with the glass and can maneuver with so many people in one place,” says Michelle Shanaberger. “They make it look so easy,” says Rebekah Shanaberger.

They certainly do, agrees Jill Vecchio of North Huntingdon, who attended a session on Nov. 9 with her husband Anthony to celebrate their 14th wedding anniversary.

“I would definitely recommend this,” says Jill Vecchio. “It was very well organized and educational. We would absolutely go back there. I love, love, love the ornament we made. It is something we will have year after year to remember that night.”

Anthony Vecchio says it was so interesting that he would like to learn more and take an extended class where instructors go into more detail about how to work with glass. “It was an out-of-the-norm experience,” Anthony Vecchio says. “I would like to do it again.”

For sale

Funky, fanciful and functional glass will be for sale Dec. 7-9 when regional artists will display handmade art and jewelry in all price ranges. Hot glass demonstrations will be ongoing from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 7, with the ornament making from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 8. Cost is $40. In the Kiln Shop, there is also an opportunity to make fused ornaments from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 8. Cost is $30.

The Pittsburgh Glass Center is located at 5472 Penn Ave.

Details: 412-365-2145 or pittsburghglasscenter.org

JoAnne Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062 or jharrop@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Jharrop_Trib.

Ornaments are created at an event hosted by Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Ornaments are created at an event hosted by Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Ornaments are created at an event hosted by Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Ornaments are created at an event hosted by Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Lauren Dick, 10, of Greenfield helps instructor Sam Spees, 24, of Friendship blow glass during a ornament class at Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Lauren Dick, 10, of Greenfield helps instructor Sam Spees, 24, of Friendship blow glass during a ornament class at Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Pieces of glass are picked out and arranged into an ornament during an event at Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Pieces of glass are picked out and arranged into an ornament during an event at Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Carly Buck, 11, of Collier Township helps blow glass during a ornament class at Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Carly Buck, 11, of Collier Township helps blow glass during a ornament class at Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Ornaments are created at an event hosted by Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Ornaments are created at an event hosted by Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Pieces of glass are picked out and arranged into an ornament during an event at Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Pieces of glass are picked out and arranged into an ornament during an event at Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Ali Patterson of Point Breeze blows glass during a ornament class at Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Ali Patterson of Point Breeze blows glass during a ornament class at Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Carly Buck, 11, of Collier Township watches as an ornament is made during an event at Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Carly Buck, 11, of Collier Township watches as an ornament is made during an event at Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Ornaments are created at an event hosted by Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Ornaments are created at an event hosted by Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Ornaments are created at an event hosted by Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Ornaments are created at an event hosted by Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Lauren Dick, 10, of Greenfield, helps instructor, Sam Spees, 24, of Friendship blow glass during a ornament class at Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Lauren Dick, 10, of Greenfield, helps instructor, Sam Spees, 24, of Friendship blow glass during a ornament class at Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Lauren Dick, 10, of Greenfield helps instructor Sam Spees, 24, of Friendship blow glass during a ornament class at Pittsburgh Glass Center.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Lauren Dick, 10, of Greenfield helps instructor Sam Spees, 24, of Friendship blow glass during a ornament class at Pittsburgh Glass Center.
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