March 01, 2003 2 min read
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Into the Fire

Students are blown away by the possibilities in David Camner’s art class.

During the Italian Renaissance, craftsmen in Venice and Murano perfected the art of glass blowing— expelling air through a metal tube to form a bubble in molten glass, then shaping it into delicate forms. For most students, this is a chapter in a history textbook. But for some budding artists at Palo Alto High School in northern California, it’s inspiration. Sculpture students in art teacher David Camner’s glass blowing course put in long hours in front of hot flames, deftly twisting balls of viscous glass into shape.

Camner started the program three years ago, after taking students to a glass studio one weekend. When the studio raised its fees the following year, Camner decided the school would get more bang for its buck if it had its own facility. His principal agreed and bought a $16,000 furnace with school funds.

Now that the program is in place, its benefits have more than justified the investment, Camner says. The 24 students in his advanced sculpture class work on pieces throughout the day, some arriving as early as 7 a.m. to get their “blow time.” Twice a week, they are supervised by a local glass artist who exchanges teaching time for personal use of the furnace in the evenings. This artist-in-residence also teaches a class for community members one weekend a month; the tuition from those classes pays for much of the program’s annual expenses, which total more than $10,000 a year for glass and equipment maintenance.

Senior Uri Blumstein is articulate, almost poetic, when describing his passion for the process: “When you start out, it’s this orange blob of taffylike substance. As it gets blown, it starts looking more like glass. Making it is a dancelike process.” He hopes to someday earn a living selling his creations.

The techniques may be dramatic—and even a bit dangerous—but Camner believes glass blowing is a natural complement to a high school art program. Even beginners, he argues, can create beautiful pieces while learning casting skills that can be used with other mediums, like bronze. And it’s fast: Unlike ceramics, which can take weeks to finish, a glass piece is made one day and finished the next. Ultimately, Camner says, glass blowing helps him teach his students “the importance of making work that has meaning for them and is not just pretty stuff.”

—Jaime Alberts


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