Watch how it’s done: Glassblowing

A hand-sculpted black glass anchor, one of the pieces that reveals Russell Carson's interest in marine subjects.
File photo by Courtesy of Martha's Vineyard Glassworks

A hand-sculpted black glass anchor, one of the pieces that reveals Russell Carson's interest in marine subjects.

Handmade glass artist Russell Carson was in the spotlight this past weekend at The Martha’s Vineyard Glassworks on State Road in West Tisbury. On Sunday from 5 to 7 pm there was a gallery show opening of Mr. Carson’s sculpted pieces.

Along with his clear and black glass anchors, the show displays a line of large and small black vases, covered in gold leaf. Some of the stands for the show are made from scrap metal from various Island ships made by Ernest Espinoza in West Tisbury.

At Sunday’s opening, the gallery was crowded with visitors and Islanders who studied the pieces and created a general consensus of appreciation for the art. Charlene Carson, Mr. Carson’s mother, attended the show and was thrilled with both the turnout and the reaction. “I started crying when I walked in,” she said. “I thought — wow, my son created all this.”

And on Monday, he showed just how he did it.

Mr. Carson held a day-long demonstration in the hot shop where the furnaces are and all the glass melting and molding takes place. One furnace holds the molten glass and two others — the “glory holes” — are where the heating and re-heating of the working glass are carried out.

Gallery manager Kirstin Hoffmann explained, “It’s a way for people to understand the sculpting process.”

Mr. Carson spent the morning creating the wood-like piece that forms part of an anchor he created similar to the one shown in the upstairs gallery. At the ends of the anchor’s points, Mr. Carson added two glass balls that were being kept hot in a fourth oven within the work area. One at a time, each glass ball was taken to the center oven to be re-heated, then after being carefully removed with metal tongs, added to the tip of the anchor and twisted until it was attached.

The next step was to thrust the entire anchor back into the glory hole or side oven for reheating. When the anchor came out of the oven again, it was reworked by Mr. Carson. Once this process was completed the second ball was added in the same manner.

His scrimshaw line is made of a white glass that has been sanded with different grids of sand paper, starting at 70 and working up to a micro finishing pad, until the tooth looses its shine. Then he draws a scene on the glass with a Foredom tool in permanent ink. The drawings feature his boat as well as other Island boats, the Gloria Ann, Mabel, and Violet.

Twisting and pulling, stretching and cutting are all part of the design and construction process. When a part of the piece was not perfect, Mr. Carson merely cuts it off and starts anew. The process goes on for hours — a demonstration of the patience a glass worker must possess.

During the demonstration, Mr. Carson was assisted by Robert Phillips, the senior assistant at the Glassworks, and Ian Whitt, a new apprentice from Mississippi. As the pieces are heated and re-heated, the three glass artists performed a gracefully choreographed routine of firing and re-firing, bending, snapping, and stretching the glass. The lengthy hot process was mesmerizing to watch, yet difficult to describe.

Mr. Carson is a six-year Island resident whose background includes illustration – training that is apparent at the gallery show. His glass sculptures reveal his love of maritime culture. Many of his glass works focus on ocean themes ranging from mermaids to scrimshaw.

There is another show opening on Sunday, August 1, 5 to 7 pm, and a demonstration on Monday, August 2, 10 am to 3 pm.

Martha’s Vineyard Glassworks, 683 State Rd., West Tisbury. 508-693-6026.

Tamar Russell is a freelance writer living in Tisbury.