Demystifying the ancient art of glassblowing

Russell Carson taking a gather from the furnace. — Lily Cowper

Russell Carson is an Island glassblower whose works will soon become available at Salte in Edgartown and Morrice Florist in Vineyard Haven. He makes every cup and plate by hand in Alan Cottle’s Lambert’s Cove Glass studio, within the grounds of Cottle’s idyllic Blackwater Farm. The MV Times met up with Russell to gather some hot tips on glassblowing.

At the risk of sounding naive, glassblowing seems inherently easy. This is how Russell Carson makes it look. He whips the blowpipe around with extreme focus and nonchalant spinning moves, his eye on the red-hot end of the stick. It’s like a jōjutsu battle, but it’s only himself fighting with a gather of molten glass and the invisible force of gravity. Then there’s me, the audience member, dodging the heat.

Glassblowers must master the movements with muscle memory, and this is what makes it so relaxed. But I can’t imagine it’s like this in every sense. You see, there’s a difference between Russell’s work and the work of most other professional glassblowers.

The furnace holds recycled glass shards, which melt to form molten glass that Russell can use to make his pieces. They aren’t cooked as long (try 1 hour versus 24 or more), which is done to preserve the glass’ natural imperfections. “Glass itself is inherently flawed,” Russell says. The inclusions are more interesting to him than the glass many glassblowers seek, which is generally cooked longer before being blown, in order to thin the bubbles out and create a smooth finish.

Glassblowing, like martial arts, is an ancient practice, with years of dedicated glassblowers using trial and error to form proper procedure like this. But this isn’t a conservative’s game at Lambert’s Cove Glass, so best practices are out the window. Russell Carson’s glassblowing is abstract art to me, and the maker himself is complete with all the characteristics of an abstract artist. His cupmaking dance is loose; he’s laid-back about the process, the color, the shape, and the end product. “To work like this, you have to be one with the material,” he says. One with the material? Is this guy Mr. Miyagi and I’m the Karate Kid?

He slouches at the bench, casually spinning the blowpipe as though it’s a fifth limb. The glass is smooth and even as he spins and widens it, now thin and perfect. I’m thinking its shape could have come right out of the assembly line, and it’s all…

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