Every time I visit an artist’s studio, I get a completely unique experience. That’s usually because each artist’s space is filled with decor that expresses their personality, pieces handmade in their own style, and the specific tools that help tell the story of how those pieces were made. In the case of our most recent Studio Tour, the experience was special in a new way. I, along with our tabletop buying team and two photographers, actually had a hands-on creative experience led by long-time UncommonGoods artist glassblower and teacher, Jim Loewer.
Jim welcomed us into his Philadelphia studio, offered us drinks and snacks, gave us the safety rundown, and then let us each get behind the flame and actually work with molten glass as he took us through his pendant making workshop. I left Jim’s studio feeling so inspired and accomplished, knowing that I had made something beautiful under the guidance of a talented professional artist, and the whole way back to Brooklyn, I had a feeling of awe that I think might only come from knowing I just changed the physical state of glass from a solid to a liquid and back again using a shooting 3,000 degree flame.
During the visit, Jim not only walked us through the glass making process and helped us avoid singeing our arm hairs with that 3,000 degree flame, he also told us about finding a great studio space, balancing teaching and creating new work, and choosing interacting with others over being a “troll.”
We visited your last studio a couple of years ago, and you mentioned that you were on the lookout for a new space. How did you know it was time to upgrade?
What are some advantages of your new space?
No Rats. Also, 50+ other awesome inspiring artists, great ownership/management of the building, proximity to my home, center city Philadelphia, good tacos, and a more organized space.
What was it about glass that got you hooked, and how did you know it was what you wanted to do for a living?
It is fun!
How did you get into teaching glassblowing lessons and workshops in addition to creating your own pieces?
I had been considering doing lessons for a long time. I was contacted by a website that sold experiences and experience gifts called sidetour.com. That gave me the motivation to put together a few lessons. Sidetour was immediately bought up by groupon, which put my lessons in front of a lot of people. That and a few good yelp reviews by nice people and I became very busy.
Has the time you spend teaching cut into your design time? How has working with students influenced your design process?
Yes! I have less time for design and production. Nine months into the lessons, I am still trying to figure out how to balance everything! I’m not sure about the design process, but it is reinvigorating to do lessons! It makes me think through the process and how to describe it to others. It helps keep me from being a troll who never comes out of his studio to see humans.
Working around open flames and molten materials sounds pretty exciting, but also a little dangerous. How do you tackle the challenges that come with working in these conditions?
By the time this is published, there will be a waiver and disclaimer. So far I have been urging people to not burn themselves and to not sue me. I also do things like handing the color and tools to participants to eliminate many points of potential danger. I also reiterate safety precautions and steps throughout the process.
The whole process seems almost magical, which might be a bit overwhelming for some. What advice do you have for someone who’s interested in glassblowing, but isn’t sure where to start or is intimidated by the nature of the craft?
Well, Glassblowing in a furnace is a way to make bigger objects, so some might say that it is bigger and sexier. Glassblowing on a torch is great, especially for lessons, because it so immediately accessible. I like to think that I have some mastery after 15 years, so that some of the stuff that I make is hard to do, but as far as just being able to jump on a torch and start melting glass yourself with zero experience, that is very doable! My lessons are based around that concept. I try to be demanding of participants in that, unlike in many furnace glassblowing lessons, students will do almost everything themselves from start to finish! I will talk to you, but you will do it, rather than me holding something while you participate minimally.