Each launch gives us an opportunity to partner with talented makers, and our holiday launch is no exception. Ambitious and artistic, a shared vision led founders, Ian and Aaron, to form Elements Glass, a gallery and studio that has quickly become the largest glassblowing facility in Portland, Oregon. From light shades to glass cups, vases, and one of a kind sculptures – Element's passion for their craft is inherent in every piece they create. Dedicated to sharing their craft with the community, they also host a holiday ornament making workshop. And this season, we’ve partnered with them to offer three unique Handblown Glass Ornaments. Given that their studio is a few short blocks from our own Portland factory, we decided to take a walk and learn more about the glass blowing process.
How did Elements Glass start? Tell us more about your background and company history.
"In 1999, Ian and Aaron hatched a plan: to serve, guide, and inspire a fledgling glass-art community. The real question was, ‘where?’ The turn of the century saw Portland topping ‘best of’ lists in worldwide publications. Artists could make a living, and livability was off the charts. Add to that the natural beauty and outdoor recreational possibilities within an hour of Portland, and Ian and Aaron had found the new home for the artistic nucleus they were about to build. In 2001, they launched Elements Glass Art Gallery and Studio, and it quickly became the largest glass blowing facility in Portland.”
Could you walk us through the process when it comes to glass blowing?
"The first step is to design the object being created. What shape are you looking for? How do you layer colors to get the desired aesthetic? The next step is to gather hot glass onto a hot pipe. The glass is held in a 2000-degree crucible that you dip the pipe into. This is the definition of gather."
"From there, you add color to the gathered glass according to its design. You repeat the process, continuing to add and layer glass to the pipe until you have enough for what you want to make. You shape the bubble of hot glass using reheating equipment until it is formed appropriately for the desired piece.
The final steps involve transferring the piece from the pipe (hollow) to a solid rod called a 'punty.' In these last moments, you finalize shaping the piece and store it in a large 950-degree oven called an annealer. Because the glass is so hot, it must be slowly cooled in an oven (while 950 degrees is still very warm, it is much cooler than the temperature of the glass). If the finished work is thin, it will be ready the next day. If a piece is thick, it can take up to a month to finish cooling.”
How do you incorporate the amber, smoke, and glacier colors into the ornaments?
“The hue in any hand-blown glass is a thin layer of colored glass that is sandwiched within the layers of clear glass. For the ornaments, we place a solid piece of color on the tip of the pipe and blow a bubble into the colored glass before coating it in one gather of clear glass.”
In a digital age that is often about speed and quantity over quality, what benefits do you see in hand-blowing glass over machine-made?
"The quality and feel of a hand-crafted product cannot be replicated with a machine. Visual variety and chaos can be a real asset and as beautiful as ‘perfection’ from a machine (just look at mother nature for examples)."
What are some of the most rewarding parts of owning a glass blowing studio and the most challenging aspects?
"The most rewarding part is getting to invest in our employees and giving jobs to those who want to stay in the artistic field – making a living doing what they love. The most challenging aspect is finding enough business to keep our employees busy every day."