Glass Blowing Studio Opens at Makers Station in West Creek

By PAT JOHNSON | Jul 03, 2019
Photo by: Pat Johnson Jeff Ruemeli makes a glass pumpkin from a glob of molten glass blown into a press mold and then blown again for volume.

Eagleswood Township — It was hot enough to fry an egg on almost anything on Friday, but Albert Gomez of Makers Station in West Creek cranked up the glass furnace to 2,200 degrees in spite of it and held his first-ever glass blowing open house. It was early evening, and a goodly crowd stopped by to watch artists Gomez and Jeff Ruemeli turn globs of molten glass into shimmering pumpkins, vases and bowls.

The process was mesmerizing. Both artists started by thrusting a glass blowing pipe into the “glory hole” of the furnace to gather an orange hot, glowing blob of glass from the crucible. Next was a quick “puff” on the pipe to capture a bubble – clearly seen by onlookers. The entire time, the pipe was rotated while the artisans sat on a bench to keep the round shape needed for all blown glassware. Then back into the furnace to heat the glob again to keep it malleable enough to blow.

The first object made by Ruemeli was a pressed glass pumpkin ,and he demonstrated what glass blowers in South Jersey had done for centuries – blowing the glass into a crimped metal form so the glass shape included ridges. Then in a series of blows he made it into a round pumpkin shape, broke it off the blowing pipe and put it on a separate pipe called a punte. He finally gathered a bit of colored green glass dust called “frit” from the marver shaping table and twisted this into a stem that was added to the top by way of a blowtorch.

Gomez then demonstrated making a “wavy’”bowl. A larger gather of glass from the furnace was blown into a round balloon shape; then the bowl was cut from the first pipe and attached to another punte. In between trips to heat the glass back in the furnace, Gomez used a steel caliper to stretch the round opening until it resembled a wide bowl. Then with an expert twist of the molten glass, it grew into a flower-like opening.

Both men had assistants open and close the furnace door to minimize heat escaping. Assistants also tried their best to shield the artists’ arms from the heat of the glass objects themselves while they worked on them. Assistant Liz Koenig also had a turn at blowing into the pipe while Ruemeli worked on the neck of the pressed glass.

All the while, friends and family plus strangers new to Makers Station, drank sodas, ate sushi and shopped in the store that carries both Gomez’ and Ruemeli’s glass creations. Ruemeli’s glass cups have twisted handles, made in an “optic mold.” Gomez showcases beautiful multi-colored vases and those with ribbon-like patterns called lattachino.

Makers Station, at 206 Main St., opened four years ago as a ceramics studio and gift shop offering handmade and unique items for sale and ceramics classes. But it was always in Gomez’s mind to open a glassblowing studio as well.

“It took time and money; it took me a solid year to build the equipment. I had built furnaces before at Tyler and Wisconsin, but the technology had changed a lot, so I had to hit the books and upgrade my bank of knowledge,” he said.

Gomez earned his bachelor’s of fine arts from Tyler School of Art at Temple University in both ceramics and glass, then continued his education earning a master’s degree in both ceramics and glass at the University of Wisconsin.

Ruemeli earned a double BFA in glass and ceramics at the University of Louisville’s Hite Art Institute. He worked for a high-end lighting studio in Philadelphia before joining the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences six years ago as its ceramics studio manager.

Both will take a hand in instructing in the Makers Station’s new glass making courses. On Saturdays, anyone 18 or older can “drop in” for half an hour and learn to make a small ornament, paperweight, apple, egg or small vase. Prices vary on the object chosen and range from $50 for the egg to $85 for a small vase.

Three-hour intensive courses range from beginners (Glassmaking 1) to more experienced (Glassmaking 2) for $275 each. If you want to continue with independent study, you must take both Glassmaking 1 and 2. Independent studio time is $40 an hour with a two-hour minimum.

Learning to blow through the pipe is easier than it looks, said Gomez. “It takes less air than blowing up a balloon,” he said. But to get professional results, as with everything, takes practice.

Although it’s been a few years since Gomez has worked with glass, his feel for the medium is coming back fast. “My forms all come out of my experience with clay. I just transfer those ideas over to glass.”

And Ruemeli notes that it takes a bit of glass breaking to get to the master stage. “That’s the price of learning, a chance to make a better product.”

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