“Like a moth to the flame, it’s truly captivating to watch the glass swirl, melt, solidify, expand, contract, open, close, stretch, collapse, break, and mend, all in the service of one finished product.”
Glassblowing is unlike any other art medium where you can throw a towel over it, come back, and work on it later. It is a very strategic and process-oriented art, requiring each step to be planned out before beginning a piece. Maggie Bean likes to think of it as a choreographed dance…but with 2000 degree glass.
The art of glassblowing is about 2,000 years old, invented by the Romans. The overall processes of melting, tooling, blowing, and shaping have generally stayed the same for centuries; even the tools haven’t changed much. What’s changed is the source of heat. Today glass makers use electricity or gas, but the Romans used burning wood.
Maggie Bean discovered glass when she was a senior in high school, having received lessons as a graduation gift from her mother. Although it was love at first sight, she never expected another opportunity to work with glass. But some things are just meant to be.
At college, Maggie met a local artist who owned his own glass studio and coincidentally needed assistance. She offered to help in the studio in exchange for free time to “play” with the molten glass, soon learning the basics of the material and more importantly, how to keep a shop functioning. After college, Maggie traveled the country in search of a gig working full-time in glass. In Austin,Texas, she found herself in the right place at the right time, and landed a job in the glassblowing studio of her dreams. For the next 3.5 years, Maggie learned her trade from four senior glass blowers who showed her the magic of working with this material. It was a time to make lots of mistakes, push her own limits, and create some of the best pieces of her career so far.
But isn’t it scary and dangerous? “Sure,” says Maggie. “Honestly, that’s what I love most about this art. I must be fully present, fully aware of my surroundings, pushing aside everything else to pay attention to what’s in front of me.”
Without that kind of focus, there can be consequences. According to Maggie, the most important rules while working in a hot shop is to always speak up when walking in close proximity to another maker, like one would in a kitchen. Always wear eye protection, and make sure to “double tap” any metal tools before picking them up. “My only burns have come from the metal tools because they don’t appear hot, but sometimes they are,” says Maggie. “Since we are unable to touch the glass at any point in the process, we must rely on the use of our tools.” Glassblowing tools are handmade by another artist and the design of each tool is literally ancient. When Maggie picks up a tool, she feels like she is stepping back in time.
Like most artists and craftspeople, Maggie believes in lifelong learning. Although she served a number of years as an apprentice, she still feels she is a student to the material, constantly striving to get it right in a continuous cycle of practice, fail, succeed, fail, succeed some more. After working with glass for a decade, Maggie appreciates every step of the process as just as magical and beautiful as the final result.
We asked Maggie about the most unusual piece she’s created and the most unusual request she’s ever received to create something in glass.
Her most unusual creation was while she was doing a residency in North Carolina, a ‘Pig in a Blanket.’ “I first sculpted a realistic (animal) pink pig and laid a woven glass blanket around its back while at 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. I laughed the entire time while creating it.”
Perhaps more emotional than unusual, Maggie was commissioned to encapsulate human and pet cremations within glass. She absolutely loved the end result and has continued to make them for other clients.
Maggie Bean is both an artist and a maker of functional products as her full-time job. But her true passion is spreading the joy of glassblowing through workshops and demonstrations, sharing the excitement of glass that she first felt and still feels. For Maggie, as much pleasure comes from providing experiences for first-timers as from creating one-of-a-kind pieces.
It may take a lifetime to become a Master Glassblower, but Maggie Bean is in it for the long haul. She has tremendous respect for American Glass Art and wants to spread the love and support for these artists throughout our country.
Want to try your hand at Glassblowing? Maggie conducts workshops at Rush Creek Lodge May through November. She can also be found at pop-up markets around town. Contact Maggie at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.