It looks like an enormous drop of glowing honey.  As it is pulled from the furnace, it dazzles with a bright shade of amber orange.  Slowly, the steaming blob turns shiny and transparent–glass.  I am transfixed.  The crowd around me jostles to get a better view.  We are all waiting, eyes trained on the molten glass, to see how this formless mound will transform into a new piece of glass art.

Hot Glass Cold Beer is a monthly event hosted by the Public Glass studio in San Francisco.  For $25, patrons choose a custom made glass cup blown by the studio’s own artists, which will be theirs to keep after the night.  Each cup has its own flair; there are vase-like cups, lop-sided cups, and cups with thin spouts.  I chose a small, simple cup decorated with swirls of orange and yellow; the sides are perfectly uneven–exactly how I like it.

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Vicky and I headed to the glassmaking area where they also serve unlimited wine and beer in your newly purchased cups while you enjoy the entertainment.  This is the hardest part to describe. If you’ve never seen glass being made before, like me, then you will find the experience exhilarating.  It almost feels like you’re given a sneak peek into an alchemy show; except, instead of Harry Potter music in the background, there’s a live band playing Johnny Cash.  It’s so “country lively” that I half expect to see an ironsmith making horseshoes or whatnot–but no, it’s all about glass here.

The red hot glass balls are attached to the ends of long metal rods, and they are carried from furnace to furnace.  Before it has time to cool, the glassblower rolls the still pliable glass on the surface of a steel table.  It does not look easy.  There is sweat and quivering muscles, swift practiced movements and furrowed brows.  It is amazing to think of the precision required to balance the pressure applied to the glass in order to achieve a symmetrical shape.  These artists are not using any sort of casting mold.  No, they are literally crafting this by hand.  That thought alone should be enough to inspire awe.

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To elongate the structure, air is blown through the metal rod, which is hollow, to inflate the glass at the other end.  Hence, the name, glassblowing.  Initially, it looked like the artist was making a glass vase, which would have been an impressive feat on its own.  But when eyes and ears started to appear, I realized that they were aspiring for something much more complex–a glass horse head.

I wish I could say that I saw the end product, but I could not stay for the finale.  Before I left, however, I was able to visit the next workroom where other studio artists were making glass baubles.  Definitely do not miss out on this side demonstration, because if you are lucky, like my friend Vicky, you may leave with an additional souvenir.

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We saw an artist create round trinkets with spiraling colors inside.  And another who carefully pieced together an intricate goddess pendant, complete with hair and bellybutton.

After these amazing demonstrations, the audience is invited to sign up for classes and workshops offered at Public Glass.  Even if you’re intimidated by furnace work, there offer many other varieties of glassmaking courses.  It’s definitely not a cheap hobby, and I probably won’t be blowing glass anytime soon, but Hot Glass Cold Beer certainly warrants a second visit.  And if you haven’t been before, it’s an incredible event to go and be inspired by glass art.

*Some of these pictures were taken by my friend, Vicky.

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