Hot Glass

Hot Glass by Fletcher Coleman '09
 

Fletcher Coleman '09, above with dad Robert, is a Chinese studies and art history double major from rural Mt. Vernon, Ohio. Apart from glass blowing at his family's glass facility, known as the Farmacy, he enjoys fencing, volunteer work, and "the quiet country life." He says he hopes his studies at Swarthmore will carry him "across the globe and lead to many exciting new adventures." Write to him at fcolema1@swarthmore.edu.

have had the pleasure of growing up in a very interesting family. My father is a glassblower of over 30 years and my mother is a printmaker and colored pencil artist. Throughout my childhood, I traveled from home in rural Ohio across the United States to art shows and craft fairs to help my parents sell their work. These experiences allowed me to meet people of diverse backgrounds and interests and aided in my growth as an individual. The exposure to people of all backgrounds was also one of the primary reasons that I chose to attend Swarthmore.

Although I have worked for my father in his glass shop for over 10 years, it has only been this past year that I got personally involved in glassblowing. Prior to that, I primarily mixed chemicals for the coloration of the glass and refilled the glass furnaces through a process called "charging." I finally realized that if I didn't learn how to blow glass now, I would never learn, so my father began teaching me the basics at the beginning of last summer.

Since then, I have learned a great deal, especially how difficult the glass blowing process is! While an individual piece may take only 20 minutes to an hour to draw from the furnace and create, the entire process of charging the furnaces, coloring the glass, and cooling it in a kiln, known as an "annealing oven," can take a combined 24 hours.


Fletcher, above at his sale this semester, says most colors are powdered that are rolled onto the glass while it's still hot. As it cools, the color then becomes part of the glass. photo by Maryanne Tomazic '10

By the end of last summer, I had blown about 70 pieces to sell at my family's annual glass sale at our house in November. However, I only sold about 50 of them. As a result, I was inspired by Swarthmore's receptive atmosphere to the arts and appreciation of the unique skills of all individuals to bring my remaining pieces to campus for a small glass sale. The reception was overwhelming. People were so interested in the process and the work itself that I sold out in 20 minutes!

Oddly enough, perfume bottles, which very rarely sell well, were the crowd favorite, and I took many requests to make more. During my time off over Christmas break, I made more pieces and returned to campus for another sale. Once again, I met with great success. On this occasion, I sold right before Valentine's Day, and several people told me they were taking the opportunity to purchase pieces for their special someone.


Fletcher also likes to add silver chloride to glass to create effects, such as those in the pieces above. photo by Maryanne Tomazic '10

Being an art history and Chinese studies double major has given me great access to the artistic works of other cultures, and I'm constantly looking to my studies for inspiration. Last week over spring break, for example, I was inspired to make a series of rice wine glasses. As I continue my study of glass blowing under my father, I hope to continue to incorporate more of what I learn at Swarthmore into my work.

This summer, I will travel to China with Assistant Professor of Chinese Xiaorong Li and four other Swarthmore students. My plan, which will extend into the fall, is to conduct research in contemporary Chinese art and attend a language school - yet another opportunity to experience new ideas and styles. Upon my return, I hope to have more sales at Swarthmore, as the reception has been great and I'm gradually earning a name for myself, "that kid on campus who blows glass." If you happen to be in the neighborhood, keep an eye out for me, and stop by to learn about the family trade.