The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

August 10, 2013

Glassblowing gains a lot of respect from reporter

By Wendy Holdren
Register-Herald Reporter

BECKLEY — Being a journalist has taken me on some interesting adventures, but glassblowing at Tamarack definitely ranks top on my list.

The last time I watched someone making blown glass was at the State Fair, probably about 20 years ago. I remember being fascinated by the orange glow of the molten glass as the craftsman twisted and turned the blob until it became a recognizable shape.

My awe for the craft tripled after seeing it up close.

John DesMeules welcomed me into his studio, Studio C at Tamarack, where he quickly warned me of all the items not to touch, as they are extremely hot.

The room itself is quite toasty — perspiration gathered on my forehead within minutes, but John never broke a sweat the entire time.

He was finishing up a candy dish, as psychedelic rock band MGMT played on his stereo in the background.

“So, what would you like to make today?”

“What’s easiest?” I asked.

He said paper weights and drinking glasses. I suggested a paper weight, but he encouraged me to give a drinking glass a try.

After he wrapped up his project, he let me choose the colors I would like on my glass. I picked pink and white, and he even placed a few gold color pieces at the bottom to add a few highlights.

He told me the steps of the process, described the different furnaces and instructed me how to use all the tools.

The steel rod used to gather the glass from the first furnace is much, much heavier than John makes it look.

I placed the rod in the molten glass, turning it as it gathered glass on the end.

I pulled out the rod, placed it on the marver and rolled it out. Each time, John cautioned me to be careful of my hand placement. The rod is cool on the end, but becomes increasingly hot as you work your way up.

He then instructed me to roll the glass in my color pieces. We heated it up for a few seconds, then he took me over to the bench, or the “Captain’s Chair,” as he calls it.

I took a giant set of tweezers and pinched and twisted the glass to create the designs in the colors (my favorite part of the process).

We heated the glass up again, then this time, he instructed me to blow in the blowpipe.

Once my piece was blown out to the proper size, John assisted me in removing it from the rod. He then reattached the glass to another steel rod, but this time at the bottom of the glass.

The glass was heated again, and I sat in the Captain’s Chair again, took a tool and began working with the opening of the glass.

“Keep it parallel to you,” he said, as I had a tendency to want to pull the tool toward myself.

“There you go, much better.”

When my creation was finished, it hit the heat a final time, John let me crack it off the rod, then he took a blowtorch to the bottom to smooth the rough glass.

“It’s awesome,” John said with a smile.

I have never been more proud of a lopsided drinking glass in my life.