Master glass blowers show off trade

By Gus Bode

The artist pulls the metal rod out of the fire, the glass on the end glowing a faint orange. He sits at his workbench and begins rolling the rod as his assistant blows through a tube at the end of the rod to help shape the glass.

After several repetitions of firing, rolling and blowing, what began as a blob of melted glass at the end of a stick has transformed into a usable martini glass.

Glass artists Boyd Sugiki and Lisa Zerkowitz are demonstrating their skill today and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon at the glass studio in Pulliam Hall Industrial Wing. They will also present a lecture at 6 p.m. today at the University Museum auditorium.


Southern Glass Works, a student organization on campus, invited the artists. The students raised the money to pay for the artists to come, said Jenny Crescieillo, a graduate student from Mount Vernon, Ohio, studying glass.

The presentations are open to all glass students, including those from other schools, Crescieillo said. Most of the students at the demonstration Monday were from SIUC and ranged from freshmen to graduate students.

“Having a master glass blower come into our studio and blow glass – you can’t pass that up,” said Andrew Najarian, a senior from Chicago studying glass.

Artist Boyd Sugiki is known for making utilitarian glass pieces, such as bowls and cocktail glasses. During Monday’s demonstration, he made several glasses, including a standard drinking glass and a martini glass, with the help of fellow artist Lisa Zerkowitz.

Zerkowitz is a third-generation glass artist who is known for her blown-glass beach balls.

Rachel VanWinkle, a junior from Cary studying glass, said she learned new techniques by watching the demonstration. She said even manipulating the use of a tool a little bit can have a big impact on the way the glass turns out.

“Sometimes it’s the little things that can make a big difference,” VanWinkle said.


Even the temperature of the fire that is used to heat the glass to make it malleable can make a difference.

During the demonstration, the temperature was between 2,200 and 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit in the “glory hole.”

Crescieillo said it took a while for her to get used to the heat, but now she doesn’t notice it.

“When you first start blowing, the heat is really intense on your skin. But after a while, you build up a tolerance to the heat,” Crescieillo said.

Working with glass is challenging because it’s a material that requires a lot of practice, Najarian said. He said he enjoys the challenge of making something with his hands and tools.

“In a world of manufactured things, you can still make something with your hands,” Najarian said.

Najarian said working with glass is an old tradition that not many people know how to do anymore, except for those studying it.

SIUC offers both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the glass department.

Audra Ord can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 275 or at [email protected]