How I Made Glass Paperweights for Christmas 2002
by Kim Keeline

This summer James and I visited Balboa Park, here in San Diego, and wandered into the Spanish Village, the local artist studio village. There we saw the workshop for Andy Cohn, glassmaker. She has a gallery and also a workshop that is outdoors (but covered). We watched her work for awhile, and then saw that she offered private lessons. The first lesson is on glassmaking (further lessons include the actual glassblowing!). When I saw the sample paperweight, I was hooked. I signed up immediately for the first lesson, but didn't actually get to do the lesson till the start of November for a number of reasons. It was a cold rainy day, but since the furnace where you "gather" the glass is 2000 degrees Farenheit, the cold weather was a blessing. Andy, who was a great teacher, introduced me to her three rules:

  1. Don't burn the teacher
  2. Don't burn yourself
  3. Don't forget Rules One and Two
I am glad to say I managed to follow all three rules throughout the morning lesson. After Andy demonstrated the steps to making a paperweight, I began under her close supervision and assistance.

The first step is to take the pole (this pipe is called a "punty") and get the glass. This involves the furnace. It is the toughest step and I don't have any pictures of it because both of us were way too busy trying to gather the glass out of that infernally hot and scary furnace. Andy is used to it, but I found it daunting. You stick the end of the pipe in and turn three times, then you have to reach forward (and you don't want to reach forward because your mind is saying "HOT! It's hot!") and then pull up, catch the drip that forms and pull back so that Andy can close that door. Each paperweight takes three gathers so I did this step quite a bit that day.

The first photo here is of the second step, marvering. The table is called a "marver" and the process is "marvering". You have to push down and roll the glass on the table to shape it and push it off the punty after the first gather. Anything down on the punty will later be wasted, so on the first gather you want to move the glass down to the working area.

The little piles of color in this picture are colored bits of glass, called "frit". For the first and second gathers you put color on the glass. Andy said two to three colors was typical. On the first gather, you want it on the top, because this is the central area you see when you look in the globe. On the second gather, the color mostly goes lower down so that you can see in to the first gather. Only the third gather is left uncolored so that it puts a nice effect on looking into the depths of the glass (although Andy had a nice one that had frosted white on the top of the third gather and I did admire that).

After picking up the frit, the glass is reheated in the glory hole. This is a smaller version of the furnace, but not scary because you can stand further back and it doesn't radiate that much heat nor roar at you. She has a stand to balance the pipe on. The entire process you are rolling and rotating that punty so that the glass (which is moving--it is just a thick liquid, after all) stays centered on that pipe. On the left, I am turning the punty and keeping the glass in the hot spot of the glory hole.

On the right, you can see me removing my glass from the glory hole and how it glows from the heat.

After the second and third gathers, there is shaping to be done. First it is done with a bunch of wet newspaper, but we don't have pictures of this. Either way, you are at this bench with props to keep the punty on. You sit down and put the punty on them and use one hand to roll the punty back and forth to keep the glass where it belongs, but the other hand goes to work on shaping (being careful not to touch the glass, of course, or the lower part of the punty). Andy had to remind me that when you are done with the paper (or in this case, the wet cedar block to help shape it into the globe that it is to be), you have to bring your right hand back to your left hand because natural instinct is to place the hand closer to the right, but there it is hot and I could burn myself. Only the left (upper) portion is cool enough to touch. Andy helped reshape my paperweights, as I had trouble getting them to be globes (especially the first ones!).

The Jacks, seen here, help start shaping the flat bottom and preparing it for removal from the Punty.

Here is Andy with one of the paperweights nearing completion.

After the Jacks are used, Andy prepares the paperweight for removal and then we hit the pipe with some metal and the paperweight dropped off into cotton on a table. She had to make sure it had cooled down enough to stop moving so much and that the shape was right before we did this. Here she takes a small flamethrower and melts the bottom a little to make it smoother where it was joined to the punty.

The anealer is the oven where it will slowly cool down. The paperweights were put in there and I picked them up the next morning.

Using a small dremel tool, I attempted to sign my initials to my paperweights. Not being very good at handling the tool, my "KK" is almost illegible.

I gave away four paperweights and kept one for myself. Here Mom and Marilyn (James' Mother) receive their paperweights for Christmas. I think they were a big hit.

My thanks to Andy Cohn of the Spanish Village in Balboa Park, San Diego for being such a fabulous teacher. I would recommend her to anyone. I am even considering signing up for the next level of lessons and learning how to do glassblowing. Then I can make a few glass ornaments for the tree.