LWB Helps to Bring the Bloomington Creative Glass Center to Bloomington

We enjoy supporting the local arts in Bloomington and had the pleasure of working on a remodel with Bloomington Center for Creative Glass. The remodel was focused on their “hot shop” where glass will be blown and fused. The project was made more interesting by the fact that the space was previously used for light industrial and several changes had to be planned to support the added power consumption of the various kilns and glass blowing equipment.

The client had acquired a 21’ vent hood for the space that would be positioned over the furnaces to dissipate heat while work was ongoing. The hood itself weighs about 500 pounds and was basically a shell, containing no fans. Working with Clutch Fabrication we had 6 steel legs fabricated to support the weight of the hood. After these were anchored to the floor the hood was lifted into place and attached to the surrounding walls.

The next challenge was determining what city and state codes were applicable for a vent hood of this size, whose sole purpose was to move hot air out of the building. Our team worked with the city Building Department and the Fire Inspector’s office to determine the amount of air turnover required to make the space safe for operations. Commercial Services provided and installed the fan system that vents the heated air through the roof of the space as well as an adjustable thermocouple (control that comes on when the air reaches a certain temperature). Two barometric vents were also installed to allow fresh air into the space while the fan is running.

To address the additional power needs for the project we were required to upgrade the electrical service to a 400 amp service. Two new service panels and a new meter base were installed to support this and the entire building is now fed from these new panels.

For safety and general aesthetics, we also installed corrugated tin wall cladding in the workshop area. While it adds a nice finished look to the space it also protects the walls from hot materials that may be moving around.

We are really looking forward to seeing all of the furnaces in action when the shop is fully up and operational. Always such a pleasure to work with and support the arts in Bloomington.

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Q&A with Abby Gitlitz, the founder of BCGC:

What is the Bloomington Creative Glass Center?

We are a nonprofit organization committed to bringing affordable, high-quality education about glass to people in southern Indiana. It is open to any and all who have an interest in hot glass, regardless of age or experience.

What is glass blowing?

Glass blowing is one of the most amazing art forms out there. Because when you’re working with glass you’re working with something that is 2000 degrees. Your brain has no frame of reference for that. The glass, when it’s hot, moves like honey and all the while it’s hot and you’re sweating and it’s glowing. It’s magical!

Where did you learn to blow glass?

I started working with glass when I was in high school doing stained glass at Bloomington High School South. I did that for 10 years during high school and college. I graduated with a degree, not in art of any kind, but glass was my real love. I actively pursued it after college and finagled my way into the glass blowing program at MIT. Once I got my foot in the door I simply never left. I was there for 7 years and by the end, I became a teacher and then I left and ran a glass blowing studio in New Orleans until Hurricane Katrina. Then went to grad school and got a masters in glass blowing and found my way back to Bloomington. I’m from Bloomington though, I was born here. I had always wanted to come back, I love Bloomington.

How long have you been working with glass?

So, I’ve been doing glass blowing for about 21 years and stained glass for 31 years and I taught glass blowing for 15 years.

What did you have to do to get the studio started here in Bloomington?

Before we started the renovation, the whole space was not usable. The walls of the back half were just pink insulation and Tyvek sheet wrap…. among lots of other issues. We already had some equipment that we purchased from a guy in New Orleans including the large exhaust hood. We had to work with the city and the fire marshals to make our equipment meet their standards.

Why were there so many issues?

Mainly because we are the first glass outfit in Bloomington, so nobody really knows what to do with us. We aren’t a kitchen and we aren’t a foundry. They had to make sure everything was safe. We are never going to catch on fire, there is never a grease involved with glass blowing. We are just hot, and we stay hot.

Tell us about the new space and how it runs.

Well back through these doors at the end of the hallway is where the magic happens! Our furnace runs at 2000 degrees, that is on 24/7. It stays hot and it is our main cost, for the equipment and for running it. It’s gas. It takes so long to fire up. 3-4 days to heat up and 3-4 days to cool down.

Our crucible holds 300lbs. which is perfect for an educational outfit. We have the heating chambers, which are unfortunately called glory holes. They cost about $7000. They go up to 2400 degrees. They are basically just a big burner and a lot of insulation. This is where you are working the glass.

These are the metal ladles that we use for the sand casting. So, the furnace itself has a big ceramic bowl inside of it filled with molten glass. We take the ladle and dip it into the molten hot glass, pour it into the sand cast and torch it to prevent it from getting too cold around the edges while the center cools. Then we put it into a kiln, so it cools slowly. Anyone can do this – we are doing this as a kid program next.

Is the new space working for you so far?

Yes, it is, and I can’t wait until we can officially start the hot glass blowing. This space is just way better for what we are doing.

Tell us more about your volunteers and mentorship programs.

Our mission is to bring glass blowing to people that would not have access to glass arts or not be able to afford it. So, we created a mentorship program to allow people to blow glass for free, as opposed to $40/hour. In exchange, they do volunteer work, but the volunteer work is blowing glass. You have to do 32 hours of volunteer glass blowing….so essentially you learn to blow glass while blowing glass. You are required to blow glass to pay off your hours.

Can anybody come and work with the glass?

Yes. We are committed to making it accessible for people physically unable to do it. One woman is deaf, another is vision impaired, we are wheelchair assessable, one person is quadriplegic. We modify things to make it capable for these people to still take part. That is a big part of who we are – to get glass blowing to people that can’t normally do it.

Do you have programs for kids?

Yes, we do! We do kids programming and STEM programming. We go into elementary schools and do a program called The Science of Silica. They learn why glass is so much cooler than any other material. And then we blow things up. What is cooler than that? Nothing!

We would love to hear more about the Glass Pumpkin Patch.

Ah yes, it is an annual event that we hold downtown on the Monroe County Courthouse lawn. You can come and pick out your very own handmade blown glass pumpkin. All the pumpkins are made by our members of the glass center. We have afternoon activities that include face painting, fusing our own glass suncatchers and pumpkin painting. The pumpkin sale helps to fund our organization and 100% of our apprentice program. We blow pumpkins 3 times a month, for 11 months of the year. We have 300 pumpkins currently upstairs. And now we offer pre-sales where you can come and look at the pumpkins and decide what you want ahead of time.

How many pumpkins are there?

The first year we sold 198 pumpkins, last year we sold 1155 and at the end of the day, we had only 13 left. They go fast and there is a line around the block before the event starts. It has grown so much over the years.

How many people usually come out to the event?

We had about 300 people in the first year, and last year we counted around 1300! There were people from 13 states and 69 Indiana counties. We know this because we do polling each year, that helps us get grants. In 2017 there were people there before we were. People even plan their vacations around the Pumpkin Patch. Oh, a funny story is that our first year we asked the person who was first in line if they would volunteer to take pictures for us, and now she has taken our pictures all 10 years!

Do any of the pumpkins break in the process?

Yes, unfortunately, we do have broken pumpkins. But this year we are thinking about possibly letting people bust our broken pumpkins for a small fee. Sometimes we let the volunteers take out any stress they have by breaking the broken and cracked pumpkins It works, let me tell you!!

So, what is it going to take to get completely operational here?

A few more things have to happen and then we should be ready to go. Right now, we have two guys in Indianapolis building our furnace and it’s going to take about another month. There is also a company building our control panel out West to operate the studio. We need to wire a few things, build up the burners, and we need to order a whole pallet of glass. After that, we should be all ready to go and be a fully functioning glass blowing center.

Find out more about the Bloomington Creative Center for Glass