Greg Tomb rolls glass in colored chips. Photo by Ana Williams-Bergen. Gregory Tomb has been fascinated with glass since he was a child. He started glassblowing in college and fell in love with its magic. Now, after about twenty years of blowing glass, he's the Town of Johnsburg's artist-in-residence, offering hands-on glassblowing classes all summer long. Tomb says that glassblowing is "definitely addicting, so it’s a good way to spend all of your time and money."
I met Tomb in his North Creek studio, a converted barn with huge doors and high ceilings. Even with all the doors open and two industrial-sized fans, it's sweltering. It's also loud, with music blasting in addition to the roar of the furnace and hum of the fans. I get a pair of protective glasses and was warned ahead of time not to wear anything too flammable. Tomb is a big guy with a goatee and a baseball cap, and he’s getting ready to blow some glass, warming up iron pipes so they don't flake. Once the pipes are hot, they’ll get dipped into the furnace full of molten glass. It kind of looks like a big silver barrel, with two small ports that are glowing fiery orange.
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Tomb loves to share his work with others, so for most of the day, he’s teaching hands-on glassblowing classes. He says he tries to make them as accessible as possible – he’s taught deaf and blind people, and people as young as five and as old as ninety-eight. Tomb tells me that "the biggest takeaway is that anybody can do it.”
When he’s not teaching classes, Tomb is blowing hundreds of glass pumpkins – he calls them “the craft that helps pay for the art.” In the fall, he sells thousands in Glass Pumpkin Patch fundraisers. He does the fundraisers in Arizona, where his winter studio is, as well as in New York's Hudson Valley. Part of the proceeds always go to local organizations – in North Creek, it’s the Depot Museum right next door.
Greg Tomb (right) removing glassblowing pipe from the furnace. Photo by Ana Williams-Bergen.
Tomb takes me over to the furnace and shows me how to make a pumpkin. Using a hollow metal pipe, he gathers melted glass from inside the furnace. Then, he blows air into a little tube connected to the pipe.
“Glass wants to be round, right? Cause you’re turning it, you’re adding air, the air is rising. As you’re turning, as long as you’ve stayed consistent with how you’re turning, you’ll get a round bubble.”
Tomb adds color by rolling it in tiny chips of glass called "frit" and puts it back into the furnace to melt it on. He uses a mould and paddles to help shape it, and then plunges it into cold water, intentionally cracking the outer layer of glass. Next, he starts to separate the glass from the pipe using a tool called a jack, “long blades that almost look like a flattened pair of barbeque tongs, that everybody mistakes for barbeque tongs the way they hold them.”
Separating a pumpkin from the glassblowing pipe using a jack. Photo by Ana Williams-Bergen.
Another glassblower, Erin Nelson, gathers glass to make a stem, twirling it around a metal pipe to create a curl. Tomb fuses the two parts together with a blowtorch. There are still a few steps left – the pumpkin is still about 2,000 degrees, so Tomb sets in gently into a special kiln called an annealer to cool off overnight.
Greg Tomb sealing the bottom of a pumpkin with a blowtorch. Photo by Ana Williams-Bergen
Tomb says that you can't teach someone to blow glass in a day, but he loves that "[glassblowing is] always challenging. And no matter how long you do it or how good you get, you can always get better and you can always learn something new about it.”
Tomb tells me that his favorite part of the work is watching students go from being nervous to feeling confident around glass, "seeing this kind of magical process where they just kind of relax and they're like 'wow, this is super cool.'"
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