Why is glass art so popular? Well, it's pretty clear.
But if you're having trouble seeing the appeal, you can drop in on the Pittsburgh Glass Center in Friendship tonight for the start of its Summer Lecture Series.
Artist/instructors Dave Walters and D.H. McNabb will discuss contemporary glass art and "the relationship between makers and materials." Richard Parrish will be on hand to talk about "making and meaning in kiln-forming glass."
The Pittsburgh Glass Center boasts of being "one of the top glass facilities in the U.S."
"We have four different studios here at the glass center, and there's a lot of different things you can do with glass," said Ashley McFarland, the center's outreach coordinator. "It's really nice because since we have so much equipment and space, you make something in one studio and then take it into another studio and make it into something completely different."
The studios are the hot shop, the flame shop, the kiln shop and the cold shop.
"The hot shop is our glass-blowing studio," said Ms. McFarland. "We melt glass in 1,000-pound tanks, and then you take that glass out of the tank and you can blow glass with it.
"In the flame shop, we work with little torches to make marbles, pendants, small jars. The kiln is for fusing flat pieces of glass together. You can make different plates, things like that. Or make molds and pour glass into them to make a certain shape."
And then there's the cold shop, which features lathes and diamond wheels that enable you to shape your glass.
Pittsburgh used to be the center of the glass universe. (Check out our PPG Place!)
"We used to say the glass industry died before the steel industry did," Ms. McFarland said.
But most of that was glass for commercial use. Glass for art -- well, that's been around since the first chandeliers and stained-glass windows. Today, it's still going strong, from simple but pure geometric shapes to cute, curling figurines.
"The modern glass movement in America took place some years ago, and there's a big glass hub in Seattle, where all those good old boys are now," said Ms. McFarland, who studied glass art at Bowling Green State University. "I think that glass art is still popular, but it's kind of hard to get the word out about it.
"There's quite a few programs at universities around the country and internationally that have glass art or glass-blowing degrees. I earned a master's in psychology, but glass art was one of the electives I took. People say that it's kind of addicting."
Unfortunately, glass art is also delicate and complicated. It's hard to succeed on your first crack at it.
"For example, glass doesn't like to go from hot to cold or cold to hot really fast," said Ms. McFarland, who noted that glass for art is much different from glass for windows or windshields. "And our glass is a little bit more on the temperamental side when it comes to that. Like, you wouldn't take hand-blown glass and put it in your dishwasher."
That explains the disaster with Grandma's glass ballerina.
"We even have to be careful with taking glass from the flame shop and glass from the hot shop because it's incompatible," Ms. McFarland said. "Different glass expands and contracts at different rates.
"But all artists struggle with such things. There are technical difficulties that we have to deal with when we work with glass, but it's just another challenge to perfect. I got involved with it because I thought it was fun. The complicated part is also enjoyable. I like the science aspect as well as the art aspect."
You can explore all aspects tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, 5472 Penn Ave. If you like what you hear, you can talk to them about signing up for classes.
The lecture series is free, but you might want to bring some cash as the center sells pieces that are on display in the gallery. Pieces range from $35 to $1,300. (There also is a special collection priced at $60,000.)
If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1456. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/