Glassblowing is magic—ask anyone who has done it!
Waterfall Arts in Belfast realized that they had a unique opportunity offered to them during the pandemic. But they faced many challenges just trying to get the idea off the ground. With a positive attitude and a new partnership, their journey is already making a huge impact. This is the story of how that came about and a reminder of the importance of commitment, collaboration, and believing in an idea! Without these in place, the dream would not reach fruition. And it’s only at the beginning. Waterfall Arts is to be commended for their perseverance in making this dream a reality.
Veteran glass blower David Jacobsen realized his well-established glass blowing business was all done when the pandemic hit. In September 2020, he spoke to Waterfall Arts Executive Director Kim Fleming about donating his glass studio equipment. Kim enthusiastically consulted with the Waterfall board and they agreed to work with David and his glass blowing colleague Carmi Katsir to transform the Waterfall Arts basement into a glass studio.
I was amazed at how quickly things happened. David first communicated with Kim in the middle of September, and during the first week in October, the equipment was moved into the building. In the spirit of true artists, they climbed over the logs in their pathway to problem solve, research, ask questions and learn, and find ways to attack the challenges. After hours of work and with financial support from funders and the greater community, they opened the studio.
Before they could open the studio, there were many challenges to solve. Kim secured funding from individuals and foundations including, $10,000 to be used for disadvantaged students. The budget to run the student program for two semesters is $25,000. One of the bigger hurdles was how to fuel the furnace (which holds 100 pounds of clear, liquid glass and is kept at about 2,100 degrees) plus the two forges that are used to heat up the glass as the art is being formed. Waterfall’s philosophy includes a commitment to be as green and as carbon-neutral as possible. The system is built to use discarded vegetable oil that is donated by a local donut shop. There are no models in Maine, so it meant communicating with people outside of the state. They are the only community-based glass studio in Maine and one of only a handful of programs in the country that offers glass classes through the public school for students.
Belfast Area High School Class
In January 2021 the principal at Belfast Area High School, located a stone’s throw from Waterfall, contacted Kim to learn what might be available for students for a semester-long elective class. When the principal saw the glass studio he got excited. Kim secured funding in time to promote the class for the fall semester.
My visit to the class, watching David and Carmi teach, and conversation with three of the students was impressive. The seniors handled the glass and navigated the tools and space with ease. A lot of that comes from the teaching and collaborative spirit of the classroom/studio culture. We know that a teacher sets the tone and, David and Carmi are top notch! The students were serious about their work while having fun.
Ronin: “I was surprised on day one how we jumped right into the process even without any previous experience.”
Anna: “There is so much collaboration: that is a surprise. Each class has a different goal, but we’re learning techniques that I didn’t realize I would use again and again. Like the ‘starter bulb,’ we learned our first week while making pumpkins. I use it in every class.”
Miles: “Everybody should do glassblowing—it’s awesome. It’s less scary than I thought it would be.” (Miles is only applying at colleges that offer glassblowing.)
David and Carmi
Watching David and Carmi with the class was magical. They’ve been pleased and/or surprised about the following:
- every week the students are enthusiastic about learning;
- teamwork is amazing—they’re very generous and helpful to each other;
- they are very dedicated;
- we communicate with them as we do with adults;
- we thought they would be more ‘product’ oriented, instead they are “process” focused;
- two hours is not enough;
- students are fearless.
Between the dedicated staff and the establishment of this new program, I’m certain we’re going to hear about this fantastic Waterfall program for many years. Kim said: “People want to be part of something successful. Our future is bright.”
Image at top: David Jacobsen with a Belfast area high school student.