Frisco glassblowing artist mentors elementary students
Ryan Summerlin March 23, 2013
A glob of liquid glass glows red-orange at the end of a long pole. John Hudnut holds the pole with one hand, the other holding a large pair of metal tweezers against the glass, shaping it as it cools.
“Ali,” he calls out. “Can I get a heat shield?”
A small, dark-haired girl jumps away from the wall, picks up a wooden paddle and holds it between Hudnut’s hand and the glowing glass. He finishes shaping and calls on another assistant behind him to take the pole and reheat the glass in the glowing furnace nearby.
The glass goes in and out, back and forth across Hudnut’s workspace. Thirteen people stand in a ring around him, looking on. The tweezers steam as they come away from the bucket of cold water and the air is sharp with the smell of heat. From time to time Hudnut calls out a name and the person, adult or child, steps forward to hold a tool, touch it to the glass or blow into the opposite end of the pole.
“The thing about glassblowing is it’s also somewhat of a performance,” Hudnut said of the process. “It’s an amazing medium.”
Indeed, the movements of assistants, equipment and glowing glass resemble a sort of choreographed dance. The watching crowd “oohs” as the glass reaches its final shape and color, a few snapping photos, others grinning.
The children assisting Hudnut are beneficiaries of a mentorship program that the artist has been running for the past 10 years. It started with Frisco Elementary fifth-graders and has now expanded to include fourth-graders from Frisco as well as fourth and fifth grade at Dillon Valley Elementary. The students come by after school twice a week and assist Hudnut while he teaches them about glassblowing.
Hudnut volunteers his time and clearly enjoys working with the students. Sometimes he even calls on the nearby waiting parents to help with a certain piece.
“It’s just fantastic,” he said, explaining that promoting creativity and art is a passion of his. “Let’s face it, you and I, when we were in school, we had art every day and now they get it, what, once a week at best. I’m happy to step into the gap and donate my time.”
One major project that Hudnut has worked on with the Frisco Elementary students was to create the armature for three large chandeliers, which now hang in the school hallway between the gymnasium and the library. Throughout the years, Hudnut’s students have created twisted designs from thin stems of glass, which all now hang from the chandelier. Each year, more students add their work to the piece, making it an artwork-in-progress.
Hudnut said his goal is to impart a sense of wonder and accomplishment to each student who comes through his studio.
“I try to get them to do as much as possible,” he said. “I want the kids to feel like, ‘Wow, I can do this,’ like, ‘Whoa, I can do anything.'”
One of the things he likes best about working with young students is their upbeat attitude and willingness to try anything.
“There’s a certain amount of adults that are of the mindset ‘I can’t do this.’ At that age (fourth and fifth grade), it’s none of that. It’s all possibility and up and go,” he said. “They’re not these jaded adults sitting on a bar stool or whatever. Their world is still a world of possibility and, quite frankly, it’s pretty good to be around that stuff.”
Despite the fact that his workshop is full of sharp tools and super-heated elements, Hudnut said he’s never had a problem with recklessness or injuries. At the start of each class, he makes sure to run them verbally through a safety check list – long-sleeved shirts, close-toed shoes, safety goggles. He makes them check the location of the fire extinguisher and first aid kit.
“Then their little wheels start turning,” he said, as they understand his meaning and the purpose behind it.
During the process, Hudnut keeps his voice calm and steady, calling out exact instructions. Even if something doesn’t go perfectly, his tone doesn’t change and the people around him pick up on it and are able to move in a smoothly choreographed way.
“I’ve got (it) down. I can bring you very close to the activity without you getting burned or cut. I can give pretty precise and clear instruction,” he said. “I just get better at it, because what I want to do is keep shooting for the stars and I know that I’m doing stuff with a team that I couldn’t dream of doing solo, so I’m all pro team and the magic of the team.”
His enthusiasm and passion for the art reflects in the attitudes of the students and assistance around him.
“When I first came I really liked to see how the glass would expand,” said Frisco Elementary fifth-grader Megan Willitts. “So when I wanted to come here I was hoping that I could learn how to use the tools, try to make and mold stuff, and do a lot of different stuff.”
Megan and her friend Ali Elson, a fourth-grader at Frisco Elementary, are eager to discuss the various tools they use and how they plan out their artistic creations ahead of time. Though now she’s comfortable in the shop, Ali admits she was a bit hesitant at first.
“I was really nervous that I would mess up,” she said, with a shy smile and a small giggle. Now, that is no longer a concern.
“It’s so fun to just play with the glass,” Megan said. “It’s been really fun.”
Hudnut holds glassblowing demonstrations at his studio, the GatherHouse, at 110 Second Avenue in Frisco on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 2-7 p.m. His gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday.