Saturday, January 6, 2024 / by Amy Brown
I have always found it captivating and much more so once I learned that my husband attended the Penland School of Craft in Bakersville back in the late 1980s and is a skilled glassblower himself. The Penland School of Craft began teaching this art form back in the 1960s and the school soon became a nationally renowned center for glass art. Famous glass artisans such as Rick Beck, Gary Beecham, Billy Bernstein, Rob Levin, Harvey Littleton, and Kate Vogel relocated to North Carolina primarily to take advantage of the hot glass studio at Penland and became the founders of glassblowing in North America. Several stayed on as instructors.
Harvey K. Littleton
WNC has one of the highest concentrations of glass artists per capita and has established itself as a hub for glassblowing in this country.
Harvey K. Littleton (pictured above) is known as the "father of the studio glass movement". Littleton began teaching at Penland in the 1960s but moved to Bakersville permanently in 1976. Littleton is credited with educating many of today's glass masters including, Bill Boysen, who built a groundbreaking glass furnace at Penland in 1965 and Dale Chihuly, one of the most recognized glass artisans in the world.
Asheville is home to over 100 glass artists currently. Most have an open door policy in their studios where you can watch the creators at work but even better are glassblowing classes for novices so that you can get a chance to meld earth and flame. The most prominent center for glasswork in the city is the NC Glass Center, located at 140C Roberts St. in the River Arts district. And if you are lucky, you might have a chance to see some of the modern glassblowers at work in their studios today. Glass masters such as Hayden Wilson, a second generation glassblower, who specializes in glass sculpture, obtained his BFA in sculpture from the University of North Carolina Asheville and learned the craft from his father, David. He says that the most valuable lesson that he learned is that "Destruction is inevitable".
You might also get to meet Kathryn Adams. Kathryn is also a graduate of the Penland School of Craft and has been creating illustrious and elegant glass lighting fixtures since 2011. Her signature style is an earthly jewel tone palette. "Glass is just magical to me", says Adams. "It's super challenging and physical, and then the final product is inherently stunning".
Classes at the NC Glass Center are offered either multi-day or single day. Multi-day classes usually run in an 8 week series and focus on specialties such as blowing with borosilicate glass, a beginners fundamentals, or intermediate glassblowing skills. One day classes are purely to get your feet wet or to enjoy a fun day learning a new art. They generally last for around 30 minutes and you can make an ornament or cup in Hot Shop, a pendant in the flameworking studio, or take a half day and delve a little deeper into the furnace with technique like applying color or form shaping.
You can learn all about and sign up for classes here:
They also hold special events and have a glass store for purchasing beautiful works of art.
Upcoming Dale Chihuly at Biltmore
The artist returns March 25, 2024-January 5, 2025 for his second exhibition experience at Biltmore Estate's Amherst at Deerpark. This show will display pedestal works, drawings, and large scale installations of chandeliers, towers, mille fiori, and neon. Purchase tickets at the link below:
To truly know a place, you must immerse yourself in its people. Glassblowing is more than an art form in WNC, it is one of the foremost creative inspirations that moved an entire population into these hills. To experience the art is to learn the history of our residents and what inspired them to uproot themselves and embark on a journey consumed by creative expression here in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Glass is born of fire, earth, and spirit. A translucent tribute to a blending of the elements. Nothing could be more primitive. It is very physical, fascinating, and demonstrates man's strength to continually manipulate and shape his world. Simply to observe is to feel the primal echo inside of you.
Enjoy the spectacle of a mystifying art born in our mountains.