It may be cold outside, but some high school students are having no trouble keeping warm at the Pittsburgh Glass Center.
They are part of Jason Forck's intermediate glass-blowing class that meets every Thursday in the center on Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh's Friendship neighborhood.
A good part of the 2 1/2-hour class involves placing glass in natural-gas-fired furnaces that heat the material to 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit -- hot enough to melt the glass into a gel-like consistency that can be worked with simple tools and blown into shapes with a 6-foot-long tube called a blow pipe.
The art of blowing glass into distinctive forms can be traced back to the Egyptians, but it was perfected by the Venetians in Italy during the Renaissance, Mr. Forck said.
Adrienne Remo, a senior at Pine-Richland High School, said she signed up for the course because she was curious about glass and its "exotic mystery."
She was working with another student, using tools that resembled shears and torches to create a sculpture of intertwining curves with openings in the center. They placed the sculpture into a kiln heated to 900 degrees, which will allow the glass to strengthen as it cures at a lower temperature.
Mr. Forck, youth education coordinator for the center, works with the students as they make practical objects such as cups and bottles from lumps of molten glass, while the more advanced students create conceptual pieces that can be displayed as works of art.
"The students and instructors work as a team to help each realize their vision in glass," he said.
The Pittsburgh Glass Center attracts instructors and artists from all over the country.
"We have one of the top facilities in the country for glass," Mr. Forck said.
"A lot of people moved here to work at the facility. We have people from Boston, New Mexico and California." said Mr. Forck, who grew up in Kansas and went to Emporia State University in Kansas.
He said he spends a lot of time talking to art teachers and students at high schools in the area, explaining how they can learn the art of glass blowing.
Dana Laskowski, who began taking classes in the center while enrolled at the Pittsburgh Public School for the Creative and Performing Arts is now a teaching assistant and helps students with their projects.
"The center is like my second home but is never boring. Working with glass is very challenging," she said
"The students work in groups. It takes a lot of team work and perseverance," Mr. Forck said.
Creating with glass presents opportunities to make objects ranging the abstract to the practical. Ms. Laskowski's tastes run to the whimsical.
"I like making bunnies," she said.
She said it doesn't take a lot of pressure to blow the glass into shapes. It's so soft, she said, it's easy to work with.
Sometimes, however, things don't work out exactly as planned.
"One thing about glass, we don't waste anything. We can just recycle the glass and remelt it, Mr. Forck said.
The students will stage an exhibition of their work from 6 to 8 p.m. April 26.
They also will demonstrate some of the techniques for creating blown, fused and frame-worked glass art.
Despite the high temperatures near the furnaces, several students described the time they spend at the glass center as "very cool."
Bob Podurgiel, freelance writer: email@example.com. First Published February 21, 2013 10:15 AM