1,500 °C
Glassblowing- Finding success in the melting pot.

May
03

In the stainless steel and concrete confines of Urban Glass in Brooklyn on a sunny March afternoon, two glassmakers- a teacher and a student- plotted their session. Isaac Tecosky, a freelance glassblower who teaches private lessons, sketched in chalk on the floor. He drew an outline of a rod holding the base of a pot and strands of fiery hot glass.

“Bit by bit, we’re going to build something,” said Tecosky, while he reassured college student Sara Hingley. “We’re more interested in the process than the product.”  

Each Sunday for the last six months, Hingley, 21, has worked alongside second and third generation glassblowers who teach the craft as the pioneers in the Studio Glass Movement taught them. Only within the past 60 years has studio glassblowing established a presence in the United States.  

On this particular afternoon, three teams in the studio alternated between gathering molten glass at the furnaces, shaping the glass at workbenches, and reheating at mini-furnaces when the glass began to harden. Other professional glassblowers and their assistants scattered to the adjacent workrooms, discussing their glass works in progress. These artisans are among a handful of fewer than 100 glassmakers in New York City who utilize four glassblowing studios in the area to create their glassworks.

Tecosky’s instruction of Hingley, a New York University junior enrolled in a private glassblowing class, ensures the craft survives another generation. Hingley is optimistically starting a journey in a field in which a relative few have flourished.

“The allure is that it’s different and not too many people do it,” said Tecosky, speaking of what initially draws newcomers. “And then once you get past that, there’s a deep love and passion.”

Tecosky, 26, started blowing glass three years ago. He had graduated from Hampshire College in Massachusetts when his brother suggested he take a technician position at Urban Glass where he also worked. Equipped with a degree in sculpting, Tecosky moved to New York City where he took both the spot at Urban Glass and a similar position fixing studio equipment at the now closed 160 Glass. Shortly after he began, 160 Glass offered him a chance to work on a large-scale project, a glass piece that would be too large for one glassblower to maneuver on his own, and he was hooked. Tecosky’s glassblowing career has steadily progressed ever since.

Now, he multitasks as a glassblower in an effort to heighten his skills and ultimately make a living. He works as a gaffer, or lead glassblower, for Niche Modern Design making light fixtures, he assists artists at Urban Glass, he teaches both private and group lessons, and he travels the East Coast assisting at glassblowing workshops.

“I want to make beautiful objects,” Tecosky said. “And I don’t mind making glass for other people.”

The quick progression is atypical of professional glassblowers. New York City artisans especially are tight knit and rely largely on loyalty and trust in an artisan’s work when they hire.

“It’s really difficult to break in because there are people who have been here a long time,” said Tecosky. “The longer you’ve been here and also the kind of skill you acquire is what determines how often you get hired.” 

Tecosky often wonders if the difference for him was the immediate connection to the local glassblowing community through his brother Leo Tecosky, who continues to work as a glass artist. Granted, an open door couldn’t hurt, but a skilled hand, an understanding of the glass, and drive are absolutely necessary to be successful.

“I was really hungry for it, and I didn’t want to do anything else,” he said. “That wasn’t an option, so I just made it happen.”

Hingley showed the same determination last fall when she showed up at Kanik Chung’s showroom seeking professional guidance in the art of glassblowing. Chung, a professional glassblower in the area, gave Hingley a first taste in the art in and NYU survey in glass course the previous semester. She emailed Chung about an apprenticeship, but after six weeks of no reply, she decided to pursue her newfound passion and meet Chung face-to-face. It took nerve.

“You’re already in Brooklyn. You know where [the showroom] is and that he’s there on Fridays. Just show up,” Hingley said to herself as she listened to “Where You Wanna Go” by David Rush on the subway to pump herself up. “That’s not something I ever do.”

Upon her arrival at 70 John and within several minutes of chatting, Chung invited Hingley to help pack four light fixtures at Urban Glass. She jumped at the opportunity. At the studio, Chung procured four boxes that were hardly fit to pack the long, cylindrical pieces he would take back to the showroom.

“They looked like they had been taped up, torn apart, and left out in the rain. They were so soggy and misshapen,” said Hingley. When they finished, Hingley asked with a chuckle at the odd job, “Kanik, you’re a professional, right?” 

Luckily for Hingley, who solidified an internship with her willingness to spring into action, his answer was ‘yes.’ Chung is among a handful of glassblowing professionals in New York City.   Having worked with him for seven months, Hingley witnesses the struggle. Chung works 18-hour days creating glass, managing 70 John, his showroom in Brooklyn, and promoting his artwork.  

“I see how hard he works, but he doesn’t let onto it,” said Hingley. “He says everyone he knows works just as hard.”

It took Chung 17 years to get where he is today. And only within the past five has he taken on teaching, which for him does not come naturally. “It’s hard for me to teach because I’m not very traditional,” he said. “I have my own style now because I’ve been doing it for so many years.”

Chung’s work is simple with minimal use of color. Signature pieces include dewdrop vases, U-shaped candelabras, and chunky glass with floating bubbles as the bases for bookends, lamps, and candleholders. These modern design pieces stand in contrast to his latest line of chick-shaped vases, which Chung created simply to make money.

“The chicks sell,” Chung said at the Architectural Digest Show in March. “Women think they’re adorable and have to have one.”

Ultimately, Chung needs to pay the bills like all glass artists in the city. He’s gotten to the point where jobs outside the glassblowing field aren’t necessary, but he utilizes other outlets within the field. One such outlet? Creating marketable, mainstream productions like the chicks, which lack an artistic vision.

The other avenue to create some cash flow led Chung to his hiring Hingley: teaching at NYU. He’s qualified with an M.F.A. but prefers to stick to the craft. Only during the last two days of the Spring 2009 course did Hingley get the chance to work with Chung in the studio, where his passion shone through. The class of a dozen students created simple fish, but Hingley was immediately drawn to his style.

“He gave me all the information I needed plus tons of information that I would probably never need to know,” said Hingley. “He’s so precise, and he gave so much detail.”

For now, Hingley observes Chung as he works and assists in selling finished pieces. She sticks with Isaac for training. And even at a beginner level, Hingley needs to show both dedication to her work and a willingness to fund her own time at the studio to be able to progress.

The tuition Hingley pays to NYU solely gives her course credit. Paying for studio time and instruction is up to her. Hingley works at a tutor through the America Reads program and uses her mother’s disabled veteran’s college stipend to pay $100 per week for a three-hour session with Isaac as well as up to $50 per hour for time at Urban Glass. 

“I’m good with budgeting,” Hingley said with a sigh. “And I usually don’t go out.”

Such sacrifice puts Hingley a step above other glassblowing students in the area, but Hingley envies arts student s that have plentiful access to a glassblowing studio.

On a trip to the Massachusetts College of Art and Design with Chung in April, she met with students who have ten hours per week on top of class time in the studio free of charge available to them. Hingley pays bucket loads in comparison for a mere three hours per week. Nonetheless, she makes the most of the time she has with some of the best craftsmen in the business. 

Looking back to the typical Sunday afternoon, Hingley soaked in every moment of hands-on experience. She set up her station without direction from Tecosky, a sign of her knowledge of the craft. She filled buckets of cold water to shock the hot glass and wet the newspaper she’d use as a barrier between her hand and the vase. She warmed the rods for an easy transition for the glass from the ceramic tub in the furnace kept at 2,140 degrees Fahrenheit. And she gathered the tools she’d need at her workbench: tweezers, sheers, jacks, blocks, and wood paddles.

When Hingley was ready, she inserted a blowpipe into the furnace and swirled to pick up the raw glass material. She quickly carried the pipe to a metal table to roll out the glass until it began to harden. After a quick reheat, Hingley and Tecosky took to the bench, he rolling the rod and she shaping with the tweezers. Such ease would suggest their hard work has paid off, but Hingley insists she needs more work to be considered exceptional.

“I’ve never had to try so hard to be mediocre,” she said. “I’m amazed when Isaac is impressed because I know he doesn’t give reactions undue.”

From Tecosky’s point of view, Hingley is on the path to success. “She’s very similar to a lot of us,” he said. “She’s driven, passionate, and she knows how to make connections. It wouldn’t take her long to get where I am.” 

But for Hingley, it’s comes down to making a living after graduating next year. “If I knew that I could support myself through glassblowing, I would blow glass and that’s it,” she said.

“It’s going to be a part of my life for the rest of my life,” she continued. “Whether it’s going to be my career, I’m not sure.”

May
03

Brothers Leo and Isaac Tecosky share the same passion for glassblowing. Each one has achieved some degree of success, though neither would consider themselves successful. But they have very different views on their roles as glassmakers. Leo, 29, is a glass artist currently attending graduate school at School of Visual Arts, while Isaac, 26, is strictly a craftsman. Artists have a message in their glass pieces. Craftsmen produce beautiful light fixtures, vases, and the like sans the vision.

The Albuquerque natives have art degrees in sculpting, Leo from Alfred University and Isaac from Hampshire College. From Leo’s point of view, this qualification makes him an artist by default, especially considering he’s always worked in other mediums including metal and neon lights.

“I have an art degree, so I’m an artist,” he said. “I use the trade to make money.” Leo’s glasswork reflects his perspective as an artist. “My art revolves around symbols and deconstructed graffiti,” he said. “But it’s not a transliteration.”

Among steel and neon works, Leo’s glass pieces, many freestanding abstract shapes, feature graffiti wrapping around the contours. He shows blue, black, and white opaque vase-esque pieces in galleries wanting to showcase urban-themed glass. Others are mixed medium with glass, neon lights, and spray paint. Such artworks are less obviously themed, but Leo’s vision as an artist sets him apart from his brother.

Isaac strives to create beautiful glassworks without the vision. He finds sanctuary in the natural movement of the glass material combined with his own craftsmanship. “When I started working glass, it was solely about acquiring a skill,” Isaac said. “And I fell in love with the technique.” Consequently, he works predominantly on production lines for Niche Modern Design, often creating light fixtures in bulk.

That’s not to say Isaac is impersonal with the process. Quite the opposite, in fact. “Glassblowing has to do with imposing my will on the material and at the same time, having its will being imposed on me,” he said. “You’re so consumed with what’s going on in the moment, you don’t have time to be creative.” 

Nonetheless, both brothers have an immense respect for each other’s work. Leo has an additional three years blowing glass and experience around the world, including an apprenticeship at a private studio in Sweden and workshops at the Glass Furnace in Istanbul. “Isaac is a severely talented individual,” Leo said of his brother.

Likewise, Isaac admires Leo’s mastery of both craft and vision in his work. “My brother is the perfect balance between craftsman and artisan,” he said “His work is conceptual yet so well made.”

The Tecoskys are representative of both ends of the glassblowing spectrum in New York City. Artists are drawn to the city for inspiration, while craftsmen have the opportunity to find work on production lines. Leo and Isaac simultaneously seek fame within the glassblowing community, which Isaac defines as being highly respected in the field. 

“There are days when I feel famous,” he said. “It has to do with confidence in my work.”

May
03

GlassRoots, a non-profit glassblowing studio in Newark, New Jersey, has provided “multiple opportunities for at-risk youth to realize their potential through the creation of art glass” for the past eight years. After school programs the organization offers teach students ages 10 to 18 glassblowing techniques, entrepreneurship, and self-confidence. Glassblowing instructor at GlassRoots, Jason Minami, sits for an interview on this unique approach to expanding the art glass community and reaching out to the greater New York metropolitan area. 

Who attends GlassRoots classes? What types of outreach do you utilize?

I think we have a wide variety. The main groups we focus on are in high school. A lot of them start out at the eleven and twelve-year-old range and they continue on into high school. It’s really people around this community. There are all of these pockets we work with. We work with a lot of the charter schools: Arts High, Science High. We work with Saint Vincent’s down the street and Saint Benedict’s. The Boys and Girls Club is also where a lot of our students come from. We actually originated in the Boys and Girls Club. And we slowly found our space. But there’s a whole range of old and young who come to GlassRoots.

Do the students continue with glassblowing beyond the programs GlassRoots offers?

I’d like to say yes. But I think because they go off to college, it’s not necessarily the class that they continue with it. If given the opportunity, they would love to. We have a student who started the program when he was about twelve but he took it to the next level. He did the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship Program (NFTE), got a business plan, and is now following through. In that case, there was the drive to continue on not only in the glassblowing but also in the entrepreneurial sense. But I couldn’t say that as a broad statement. Glassblowing is such a unique art form that it’s not always available. I think that’s also what makes it special because we can give them something they’ve never seen before. It’s not in the high school. It’s not in a classroom. But once you get the Jones for the glass, it’s hard to stop.

What does the practice of glassblowing offer the students?

We give them a place where they can feel comfortable. It’s not necessarily a school environment. They can come to a place where no one is judging them or scolding them. I think that’s the first thing. I also think that glassblowing is a very challenging skill. They have to be persistent and driven to get the outcome they want. And it gives them that mentality that they have to work to get what they want. There are a lot of high and lows. But when they achieve their goals, it’s all the more fulfilling. The NFTE program opens their minds to being entrepreneurs. They make business plans and they think, “Maybe I can sell my work online.” That’s a key part to the whole program.

How does GlassRoots contribute to the growth of the glassblowing community in the New York City area?

It’s a really tough time for the glassblowing community. To make it affordable for the students or even for our night classes, we have to do a lot of extra work on the side. There have been a lot of shops that have shut down, so it’s hard to say where we are right now. As much as we’re a glassblowing facility, we’re also focused on art learning that uses glass to reach the kids, to reach the community.

Apr
26

Check out this glassblowing studio called GlassRoots in Newark, New Jersey. 

GlassRoots provides the youth of Newark, NJ with a unique opportunity to develop their minds and their confidence through the creation of glass art. By teaching our students how to master this tradecraft, we not only reveal their immense creative potential, but also tap the cognitive abilities which can help them with school, work, and life. -GlassRoots Mission

Apr
19

While not every glassblower belongs to the Glass Art Society (Leo Tecosky says, “Glassblowers are broke, so we don’t like to pay for anything.”), the group provides information on conventions, artists, and other hot topics within the glassblowing community.

For more information, visit the website.

Apr
19

Leo Tecosky, 29, freelance glassblower, grad student at School of Visual Arts

Highlights from the interview: 

  • Attended Alfred University to study sculpture (also completed two summer courses in glassblowing)
  • Apprenticeships at Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center in New Jersey and Klenell Studio in Sweden (where he worked with recycled glass of wine bottles) 
  • Studied glassblowing further at Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle (but still doesn’t consider himself formally trained) 
  • Works most often as the first assistant to the gaffer (moving the glass)
  • His favorite places to teach worldwide have been the Glass Furnace in Istanbul and Penland School of Craft in North Carolina
  • Estimates there are under 100 glassblowers in New York City
  • An art glass movement occurred in the United States in the 1950’s

Read the rest of this entry »

Apr
12

Many refer to Lino Tagliapietra as the greatest living glass artist and attribute the spread of Murano’s secrets to the United States to the glass master. Born in Murano, Italy in 1934, Lino began the craft at age 12, earned the title of maestro at 21, and worked for the best Murano glass factories for 25 years before teaching American artists like Dale Chihuly and Dan Bailey. His work is show and sold in museums and galleries around the country.

Read the rest of this entry »

Apr
12

Ancient glassblowing is most often traced back to Murano, the small island just off of Venice. Originally, Venice housed glassblowers and their studios, but due to the fear of glass furnace related fires demolishing the city, the industry hopped the water to more stable ground during the 13th century. From this point forward, Murano’s population consists of persons involved in the glass trade.

Read the rest of this entry »

Apr
05

As Isaac Tecosky mentioned in a recent interview, glassblowing is extremely expensive. Below I’ve calculated what just an 8-hour day would cost for a professional to create colored glass pieces. This is merely one hurdle glass artisans have to jump in order to be successful.

Read the rest of this entry »

Apr
05

An ongoing dialogue with…

Isaac Tecosky, 26, freelance glassblower, private instructor at Urban Glass, gaffer for Niche Modern Design, New York City

Alexis: What made you stick with glassblowing?

Isaac: The allure is that it’s different and not too many people do it. And then once you get past that, there’s a deep love and passion. I love it because… I don’t know why. Glass. The way it moves, the way it reacts is a part of universal physics that are inate in the human body. So, it’s an attempt to synchronize myself with the material, and that can be a lifelong process. And I like that idea. It’s the same reason I ride the kind of bike I ride. I ride with no brakes and in the city, from the outside looking in, it’s considered dangerous. But it’s a challenge and it’s different. That was the draw in. Read the rest of this entry »

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