BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with Jane Greer, April 1, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Interview with Jane Greer, April 1, 2008
April 1, 2008
Interview with local glass artist Jane Greer, owner of RDG Designs and Glassblowing Center. Here, she discusses terminology and techniques of her craft, and her experience as a working artist in Wilmington.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Greer, Jane Interviewer:  Hayes, Sherman Date of Interview:  4/1/2008 Series:  Arts Length  60 minutes


Hayes: We'll try this again. For those who are listening in, this is Sherman Hayes, University Librarian, and Randall Library at UNCW, and I'm interviewing Jane Greer, who is a glass artist in Wilmington, and has been for quite some time. We're working out of her shop, and nearby us are a collection, and behind us is a huge kiln and furnace area and we're here. So any extraneous noise is not Jane and my fault.

Greer: (laugh) That's right. We're not to be held responsible.

Hayes: That's right. Now that I have my technical things better, why don't we start here, Jane?

Greer: Okay.

Hayes: I didn't want to imply. You've been doing this for 12 years, particularly glass, and you look like you might be older than 12 years.

Greer: Yeah. (laugh)

Hayes: So why don't you get us started with how you got to this glass blowing, again.

Greer: Okay. It started when I was probably seven or eight years old with my school trip. I was an elementary child going to Jamestown, Virginia and watching the hand-- the glass blowing there.

Hayes: And you grew up in Jamestown there?

Greer: No, no, no. I grew up in Greenville, North Carolina. When I was 11, we moved away. I moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia, lived there for about 20 years. But as I think everybody's taken a fieldtrip to Jamestown, Virginia for the history, my teachers had to drag me kicking and screaming away from the glass blower. That's when I got a love for glass, didn't realize it until 30-some-eight years later, but that's where it came from.

Hayes: That's funny that it's burned in your memory, because we always ask artists what were they like that they got it, and everybody has a different story. So that's still in there.

Greer: Oh I still have the visual picture of the whole layout of the glass.

Hayes: Do they still do that there?

Greer: They do. They do. They do. It's a big draw still.

Hayes: So was art and glass blowing always there in your background, before you became a professional?

Greer: No, well not really. I went to school at Old Dominion with a major in business and a minor in textiles, mainly with the intent-- I loved fabric, loved cloth, but it was more to be used in a business sense, not so much as in an art field. I've always done every type of craft there was to do, and that's what led me to this was I had done everything, and once I felt like I had mastered it, it was time to move onto something else.

Hayes: What are some of the other crafts that you tried?

Greer: Polymer clay pottery, weaving, just about-- paper.

Hayes: Anything with textiles?

Greer: Not so much. I mean, of course, I used to do a lot of sewing, and quilting and knitting.

Hayes: Quilting and knitting.

Greer: Yeah, but I'd never consider-- and I'm hesitant about calling myself an artist, because I tend to make things that are functional. You know there's always that argument about; what's art and what's not.

Hayes: I like to define it sometimes as creating a visual product that you intend to sell.

Greer: Yeah.

Hayes: So you do that.

Greer: Yes, I definitely do that. That's absolutely right.

(crew talk)

Hayes: The craft world has always been at the edge of that, right? It's only in recent years that they've been kind of accepted. In fact, interesting that you mentioned that, because glass as an art form, Harvey Littleton-- I don't know if you know that name--

Greer: I do.

Hayes: --lives in North Carolina--

Greer: Right.

Hayes: -- is considered the father of glass art in America, and that's fairly recently.

Greer: Right.

Hayes: I mean that's got to be in the last less than 100 years.

Greer: Right, right.

Hayes: Now you will find your product. You say functional, but as I look over here, so much of it really is beautifully done that people don't really use it as functional.

Greer: Well and that's sad, because I certainly use it. I certainly do, because it just dresses up a table and makes it look so nice, but I hear that a lot. I have little signs up that say its all dishwasher and microwave safe. And "I'd never put that in a dishwasher," and I'm thinking why not, you know.

Hayes: Well customers, though, particularly for many of the forms see it as an art object that they want to buy.

Greer: Right, right.

Hayes: Since you're part of our artist series, I'm declaring you as an artist!

Greer: Okay, all right! And that's not an April fool joke, right? (laugh)

Hayes: It is April Fool's. Oh, you got that again. I'm supposed to mention that it is April 1, 2008. Oh, my goodness.

Greer: Just trying to help you out.

Hayes: Were your parents into art?

Greer: No, no, no.

Hayes: I was just curious. Sometimes people have a--

Greer: My mother says that she used to do a lot of drawing when she was younger, none that I ever saw.

Hayes: Twelve years ago, what prompted you into the glass?

Greer: It was actually my now husband and I had come to Wilmington and we ran a little store down on Carolina Beach Road that was a gift shop, but also was a stained glass studio. And she took about 30 minutes to show me just the rough things of stained glass and I was hooked. And so then once I made every-- all of my family had all the stained glass they could stand--

Hayes: What were you making in stained glass?

Greer: Well actually, the things that I enjoyed making the most out of stained glass were mirrors with the stained glass borders around them. Of course, window hangings, did a full door insert for those glass doors, you know, the doors that have the glass inserts. I like doing things like that to where the sun could really catch it and really show it off.

Hayes: Stained glass is another one of the decorative arts--

Greer: Right.

Hayes: -- that has kind of accelerated up in level.

Greer: It has.

Hayes: People pay some amazing prices for this exotic construction.

Greer: Absolutely.

Hayes: But with stained glass, you're cutting, and moving and marking, but you are not changing the glass, right?

Greer: Correct.

Hayes: That's kind of a difference for stained glass, right?

Greer: Correct. You're using more of the art side of it as far as what part of the glass is going to catch the light just right and show the right shading and that kind of thing, but it's still a solid form and all you're doing is manipulating a solid form.

Hayes: Did you end up doing some of your own woodwork and so forth?

Greer: I did. I did my framework for it. I would incorporate it into scroll work at a scroll saw, and did a little bit of everything with it.

Hayes: Did you decide at that point to start selling them or not?

Greer: I did sell it. I sold a lot of it online. I had not started doing shows at that point, because my husband and I had another business that we were focused on and so it was more just a hobby at that point. I did develop a studio, though, at my home for that, and then that's what evolved into where I am now.

Hayes: When you started to move to glass, some of the terms you've used in the past, glass blowing, which we'll talk about, glass fusing. Are there other terms?

Greer: Oh gosh, there's cast molding, glass casting. There's sandblasting glass. It's endless. That's what's so wonderful about glass.

Hayes: Were you able to set up a studio at your home in glass? I haven't heard of very many people that have a home studio.

Greer: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

Hayes: What would be involved with that?

Greer: Well in my own studio, mainly, it was born out of necessity because my husband got tired of getting slivers of glass in his feet. (laugh) So I went from a little closet to about an 800 square foot studio. That way, I could keep it as messy as I wanted, and not have to worry about who was coming in and what anybody was doing.

Hayes: What are your basic elements of it for home?

Greer: For home, for just stained glass?

Hayes: No, I mean for the whole thing.

Greer: Okay, torches. I have torch, which involves oxygen and propane, sandblasting cabinets, kilns, of course, lots of glass.

Hayes: Kiln meaning like a furnace.

Greer: Right, right.

Hayes: And you have this all in a private setting. That's great!

Greer: Oh absolutely.

Hayes: You have been in crafts in lots of different things, but you're one of the very few glass artists in town.

Greer: Thank goodness.

Hayes: How did you learn? I mean in other words, what was the developmental process?

Greer: Well when I went from stained glass to fused glass, I took a lot of classes in that. And then that moved me. I realized at that point--

Hayes: Where did you take the classes at?

Greer: Oh over in the western part of the state with Brad Walker. He is, in my mind, a fused glass maestro, Corning Museum of Glass. I've taken a lot of classes there.

Hayes: Up in New York?

Greer: Up in New York.

Hayes: Where is Brad from?

Greer: He's out of Greensboro.

Hayes: Oh so you were then really invested in going. It was what, like a week class?

Greer: Right, absolutely, absolutely, still do.

Hayes: Oh really?

Greer: Oh absolutely, because it's not a process where you-- in order to become a master, you have to have blown glass for 30 years. And I don't think I make that, but that's okay. I don't-- my goal is not to be a master glass blower. My goal is to blow glass, and hopefully, do it well. So then torching, there's a lot of wonderful teachers around here for lamp working or torch work in the state of North Carolina, as well as, again, up in Corning. I took a lot of classes up there. But glass blowing, in addition to Corning Museum of Glass, I've also taken lessons with a master glass blower up in Sperryville, Virginia. Eric Kvarnes is his name.

Hayes: Are these usually groups of people?

Greer: No, usually it's one-on-one.

Hayes: Wow, so you've talked about a financial investment. He doesn't do it for free.

Greer: Yeah, don't ask my husband about it. (laugh) And the reason that RDG came about is because--

Hayes: Tell us about RDG.

Greer: RDG Designs and Glassblowing Center. I sell supplies, as well as having a full-blown glassblowing studio.

Hayes: And you teach it yourself, now?

Greer: I teach lessons in all phases except stained glass. I don't teach stained glass. There's enough of that. (laugh)

Hayes: Do you do shows still now?

Greer: I do. I still do shows. I kind of came off the show circuit last year when I opened the retail facility, just because it takes so much time.

Hayes: Tell me a little bit about, you use the term retail circuit. What is that? What do you mean by that?

Greer: Well when I was doing the show circuit, that's where I would go every weekend, go to shows and display my wares and try and sell them there.

Hayes: Where were the shows?

Greer: Oh all over the place, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina-- I never went too far north, just because time got to be too much-- uh... Tennessee, Georgia.

Hayes: Now were these kind of like our fairs or are these really art shows?

Greer: A combination of both, a combination of both, but technically, it's called fine art shows.

Hayes: Not Azalea Festival or something.

Greer: No, no, no, not festivals, but fine art shows.

Hayes: Where the people know they're coming to look for art.

Greer: Right.

Hayes: And they were made up of all different kinds of arts, usually?

Greer: Every medium.

Hayes: Are there ones even just for glass?

Greer: Usually, those are done in private shows. Yeah, usually those are done in gallery showings and that kind of thing.

Hayes: Are there many of them?

Greer: Oh yes, yes.

Hayes: So you had to get in.

Greer: Right, you had to submit your slides and description of your product.

Hayes: As we talk about rules of artists, that may be another defining element--

Greer: I suppose.

Hayes: --where somebody else was judging whether you have reached a certain level before the show.

Greer: Right.

Hayes: As opposed to I can buy a booth and here's my product, you still could be an artist.

Greer: Right.

Hayes: So you really went the fine art side very quickly.

Greer: Right. Well I was very surprised, pleasantly so that I did about four shows of non-juried just to see, trying to find my market. And then when several of the people there said you don't belong here, you belong at and would name other shows, I said well I'll try and see if I can get in, and surprisingly, I was accepted.

Hayes: Walk me through, say, a show up in Virginia. What's involved from day one? From here, what happens? I don't think people understand kind of the gypsy nature.

Greer: Oh absolutely.

Hayes: And sometimes, if they don't do the gallery, they do the show circuit.

Greer: Right, that's exactly right, or both, or the wholesale circuit. That's another whole branch. To do shows, it's very grueling and it's so much hard work, and it's always a very risky business. You start off, you have to be there the day before to set up your booth, which means you have to build a booth and you have to lug it. I always did shows alone, so I had to make mine to where I could handle it by myself. Fortunately, the show group is always a very close-knit group and everybody's willing to help other people.

Hayes: So you would have a trailer or something to pull it?

Greer: I would fit it all in the back of my van, and box up all of the product.

Hayes: How much product? Would you take a lot of product?

Greer: Oh yes, because you always hope for that one great show where you sell everything you have out, and the last thing you want to do is not have enough product. You would always carry more than you thought you were going to need, just in case, or different types of products, because you didn't know what kind of market you were going into.

Hayes: So you arrive the day before. You've got to do all the physical work.

Greer: Right. Then you have to stand there for eight to ten hours, depending on how long the show is, and greet and have a smile on your face and love everybody.

Hayes: Did that come easy for you?

Greer: It did for me.

Hayes: I think for some people, it's not.

Greer: Some people, it's not, but for me, I love it. I enjoy it.

Hayes: But it makes a difference, doesn't it?

Greer: It does. It makes a big difference. It makes a big difference.

Hayes: It may be starting another hobbyist on their way. Sometimes people are asking you how do you do it, right?

Greer: Right. Oh yeah, and they say I'd love to learn how to do it. And sometimes I'm in an area where I can give them names of people where they could go, because I'm not like some glassblowers in that they don't want to tell you anything, because they don't want you to be competition. I think everybody who blows a piece of glass, that glass is unique, because there's no way you can duplicate it. There's no way you can duplicate it.

Hayes: Not hand blown.

Greer: No, no.

Hayes: Some of the commercial products, pretty amazing what comes out, but they have to identify it as machined, right? Is that what it'd be called?

Greer: No, they just have to identify where it was manufactured, but you know those are generally molded, which means they're blown into a mold, so they all look exactly alike and there's not a lot of creativity there. But when you're talking about an actual blown piece, it's very difficult, in my mind, to be able to duplicate someone else's work.

Hayes: So you talk, you talk, you hope to sell.

Greer: You hope to sell.

Hayes: And then what's the evenings, just on your own, trying to do something?

Greer: You're exhausted. (laugh) You go get something to eat, go back to the room, never get on your feet again and don't want to talk to anybody.

Hayes: How long do these shows usually go for?

Greer: I generally do 3-day shows, so they would be Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Hayes: And then back in the van to wherever.

Greer: Load up, go to the next show.

Hayes: When did you do the work? That's what I always ask. It doesn't just come off easily. When do you do the work?

Greer: Well the show circuit generally winds down right after Christmas, and it doesn't tend to pick back up, unless you go to Florida, until March/April.

Hayes: You never did the Florida circuit?

Greer: I never did the Florida circuit, no.

Hayes: Somebody commented about this is actually, ironically, a very good place for the circuit because up and down the seaboard, there seems to be lots of these things.

Greer: Yes. Well fortunately, promoters are able to combine it with resort type cities so that it ends up being a vacation, as well as come to the show.

Hayes: You said you did one in Tennessee. Is that well received out there?

Greer: Oh yes. Oh yes.

Hayes: Of course, they've got a lot of facts in that area.

Greer: They do and a lot of art, as well.

Hayes: What about Nashville? I know they do quite a bit of the art thing.

Greer: I've not done a whole lot in Nashville, just because there are a lot of blowers in Nashville.

Hayes: Oh is there?

Greer: There is, so I tend to go where there's not going to be a lot of glass already juried in. The show I did in Tennessee was in Chattanooga and it was a fine arts show and it was a very good show, a very good show.

Hayes: So is there like a pecking order for these shows?

Greer: Oh absolutely. We generally all go to the same shows, and so we would see each other almost every weekend and we'd say are you going to so-and-so. Yeah, I'm going to be there. What's your booth number? Maybe we'll be together, which was a good thing, because then you had somebody to watch your booth so you could go to the bathroom or get something to eat. It was funny, because when I first started the show circuit, my booth was so poor. Oh it was just so poor. And so every week, I would change something around and everybody would come around, "I like that. I like what you did." And then over December and through the spring break or the winter break, I developed a whole new booth. And when I brought it in, everybody just went wow! I had a lot of people in my booth then, but mainly it was all other artists. "Oh I love what you did! How'd you come up with that idea?" But it's a lot of fun. I miss it. I really do. I miss it.

Hayes: How many years did you do that?

Greer: I did it for about two or three years.

Hayes: Do you think you'll go back to it?

Greer: Gosh, you know I don't know if I--

Hayes: Except for retail, you say it takes so much time.

Greer: It does, and if I go back to it, it's because the retail didn't work and so I'm hoping I don't have to go back to it.

Hayes: And so the time you get the product is just in a very concise way. You have to really peruse a lot of product.

Greer: Right, right.

Hayes: Because then you've got to hit the road. And you hope to be successful. Like you say, you don't want to run out of--

Greer: Exactly, exactly. It's a difficult life to be an artist on the road.

Hayes: When you're producing the product, then are those eight and ten hour days?

Greer: Well it's funny. For me, I'm real fortunate in that when I start working glass, I tend to forget about time. And so it's not uncommon, as my son will say, who works here in the clock shop with me, he has to come back and tell me, "So what are we having for lunch?" because he said she'll forget and work right through it. And if it wasn't for the fact that I have someone reminding me what time it is, I'd do it all the time, because I love it. I love it and I hope that never goes away.

Hayes: When you take vacations, do you go look at glass?

Greer: Vacations? (laugh)

Hayes: Oh no vacations?

Greer: (laugh) My vacations are usually when I go and take a week-long class or something to that effect, which is always fun.

Hayes: So many of our interviews with artists sound like you that are self-taught, others who have degrees, always talk about still taking classes.

Greer: Oh yeah.

Hayes: I mean I think the outside world believes well okay, you have this talent and then you go do it, but you're not continuing education.

Greer: Absolutely, absolutely.

Hayes: No one is making you do that.

Greer: No. It's just there's always another technique I want to learn. There's always something. That's the beauty of having a studio here. I have a lot of glassblowers who come around at studio time, and I learn from every single one of them, because everybody does it a little bit different. It's always fun to see other ways of doing things.

Hayes: Let's divert from your career, and give us a little bit of background about what are the choices for you in creating glass art. What are some of the techniques that you do use?

Greer: Oh gosh, mainly a lot of imagination, you know just trying to take an object that I've seen somewhere and thinking boy, that'd be nice in glass, and trying to go work through the process of recreating that.

Hayes: But you have different choices of techniques, right? You have the fusing. Tell us a little bit about what that is, f-u-s-i-n-g.

Greer: Fusing is a combination of hot glass and stained glass, because you can take flat glass, just sheet glass, make it into any design you want. It's kind of like doing stained glass. You cut it into pieces to make a design. Then you put it in the kiln and you fuse it and it becomes one piece. So it's stained glass without the lead lines.

Hayes: I see. Do you have to put anything between or it just fuses by itself?

Greer: No, no, it fuses by itself.

Hayes: Can you create variations in that fuse that you want?

Greer: Sure, sure.

Hayes: With other glass?

Greer: Mm hmm. You can make it so that it's textured by just adding additional layers and not heating it so long, or you can slump it over objects to give it either curves or movement, any kind of different shapes.

Greer: In the kiln, itself?

Greer: Mm hmm.

Hayes: So it goes in like flat?

Greer: It goes in flat.

Hayes: I would guess that's a fine art to try to get just the right time.

Greer: It's tricky. It is tricky. You have to have ruined a lot of pieces. (laugh)

Hayes: You said pieces as you've ruined them?

Greer: Yes, yes.

Hayes: It seems very similar to the potter who's using heat.

Greer: Right.

Hayes: I've talked to many of them who talked about they have these glazed little tiles and they write down every detail.

Greer: Exactly, exactly.

Hayes: And you do the same thing.

Greer: Exactly, exactly.

Hayes: Now are temperatures different for every glass, too?

Greer: They can react, and not only every glass, but colors, as well react differently to temperature. And not unlike pottery, the reds, and the yellows and the whites tend to be pretty temperamental, and so you have to kind of be careful how you use those.

Hayes: Is that just in the quality of the sand that goes into it?

Greer: I think it's more the metal content in the glass is what causes that. Some reds fire beautifully and some of them come out liver looking, so it just depends on the composition of the glass.

Hayes: You talked about disasters. Can you reuse that glass?

Greer: Oh absolutely. I don't ever throw away glass. If it's a total disaster, then it becomes mosaics. (laugh)

Hayes: Now tell us what a mosaic is.

Greer: A mosaic is just where you take broken up pieces of glass and form a pattern or a design.

Hayes: You're fusing it.

Greer: Usually, it's in grout. You can make tabletops that can withstand outside.

Hayes: Is that still considered glass art?

Greer: Probably to mosaic artists, it is.

Hayes: But it's not considered overlapping glass.

Greer: No, it's more a craft. It's more a craft.

Hayes: But it drifts closer to the stained glass that you were talking about.

Greer: It does.

Hayes: You use a grout, and not necessarily wood and so forth. That's interesting.

Greer: Right. Well there are some. If, for example, if you looked on the Independence Mall, all the mosaics that are above the entranceways, like Belk's and all of that, now that's probably done with tile, as opposed to glass, but it's the same technique.

Hayes: So there are probably fine artists that are doing abstract.

Greer: Oh absolutely. There are some beautiful micro mosaics, which are just tiny, tiny particles of glass that they put in and create extraordinary pictures with them.

Hayes: Would you also have mosaics even that hang on the wall?

Greer: Sure, sure.

Hayes: So you do that, as well?

Greer: I've done that as well. I don't do it so much anymore. I found out my love was molten glass. That's where my interest was.

Hayes: So when you're done fusing with sheets, where would you use the torch? You mentioned a torch.

Greer: The torch is called lampworking. I started at the torch making beads, as most people do. And from there, anything--

Hayes: How do you make beads? I don't understand.

Greer: Making glass beads.

Hayes: You take a piece of glass and then use the torch to shape it?

Greer: To mold it and wind it onto a mandrel.

Hayes: That's a stick you use?

Greer: Mm hmm. It's a steel rod. Then you decorate it by adding other little bits of glass and that kind of thing.

Hayes: Is this like jewelry?

Greer: Right.

Hayes: Tabletop things?

Greer: Could be.

Hayes: Could you go clear up to a solid?

Greer: You could, yeah. In addition to beads, because I've made so many beads, I got sick of them. And I don't do metalworking, so I had no way of, other than stringing them, utilizing them. And I wasn't into jewelry. So then moved into making perfume bottles at the torch, Christmas tree ornaments and things like that, and wine bottle stoppers, hummingbird feeders, things like that. Anything you can make at the furnace, you can make at the torch, just on a smaller scale.

Hayes: So we're talking about an actual torch of high-powered fire coming out.

Greer: Thirty five hundred degrees.

Hayes: And you're holding that with a steel rod?

Greer: No, that's mounted to the bench.

Hayes: Okay good, because I'm thinking safety here.

Greer: Yeah. (laugh) It's mounted to the bench.

Hayes: You could singe a lot of hair.

Greer: Oh yes, oh yes.

Hayes: Fire, it is a problem, heat and safety.

Greer: A lot of heat, a lot of heat. I don't consider it a problem. That's why I know I used to love to play in fire as a child, so the combination of fire and glass is appropriate for me. (laugh) I get to hit both of them at one time, (laugh) and hopefully do it safely.

Hayes: And so a lot of people, I would guess, gravitate. Is that like a logical progression that you would start with slumping and fusing, then a different technique? Is that a more advanced technique or just a different technique?

Greer: It's just a different technique. I went to fusing and slumping because it was something I could set up in my home studio, because all you needed was a kiln, and so it as easy to go to that next level. Some people go to fusing-- or to torching first, and then end up at fusing. I think that if you just have a love of glass, you end up hitting them all sooner or later, anyway.

Hayes: But to get to blowing, which is a much more complicated process, right?

Greer: I think everybody would like to. You know it's hard to say.

Hayes: When you get the two, is the next one, the last one, blowing glass or is there some more?

Greer: Yes.

Hayes: You talked about some other techniques that you use regularly.

Greer: No, that's all done at the furnace. I don't know of anything more than the furnace.

Hayes: Tell me a little bit about the process of blowing glass. Most of us have heard the term, but I don't think we have sense of what's involved.

Greer: Well and it's amazing when people come and take their first lesson. And of course, when you stand and look into the furnace, or look into the studio, you think well gee, that doesn't look so bad. All she did was open a door and its red in there. She closed the door. It's can't be too bad, until they stand in front of the door when I open it and then they're like, "Oh my gosh!" and they back up and I'm like, "No, you can't back up. You gotta get in there and get the glass. That's where the glass is." Glass stays at 2,100 degrees, the molten glass. And you go in and you gather it on the end of a pipe.

Hayes: What's the pipe made out of?

Greer: Stainless steel or sometimes, just plain steel.

Hayes: But now you're wearing gloves.

Greer: No.

Hayes: No?

Greer: No.

Hayes: It doesn't carry the heat so well that it burns you?

Greer: No, no. The heat only travels up the rod maybe a foot or so.

Hayes: Interesting. How long is the rod? You want to get away...

Greer: The rod's about 54 inches long, so about 4 ½ to 5 feet.

Hayes: So you've got to be a little ways from there.

Greer: Yeah, yeah. It does give you a little bit of a buffer zone. So you gather the glass.

Hayes: Do you stick the rod in?

Greer: Into the furnace, into the glass about an inch or so. The tip of the rod is about an inch or so under the glass, always turning it, because otherwise, gravity will just pull it right off.

Hayes: Interesting, so just twisting the glass.

Greer: Turning it, and as you pull it up, continue to turn and it gathers onto the pole. That's why it's called gathering. And then you'd bring it out of the furnace. And at that point, if you don't keep it turning, it becomes a nice big blob on the floor. (laugh) So then from there, you marver it.

Hayes: What is marvering?

Greer: Marver, it's an old term, originally named because they used to do it on a marble slab, which I use a marble slab, as well. But it's a way to chill the glass and shape the glass.

Hayes: So it's really hot now.

Greer: Mm hmm.

Hayes: And you're rolling it.

Greer: Right.

Hayes: And you put it on a surface of some sort?

Greer: On a marble surface. It can either be marble, or it can be stainless steel or it can be just plain steel. It just has to be clean.

Hayes: And does each surface change the final product in any way?

Greer: No, it just changes your working temperature, because whatever surface it is, it sucks out some of the heat to help form a skin over the outside of the glass, so it's a little more manageable. You want the inside to still be molten, but you want the outside so that you can shape it. You can also use cherry wood blocks to do that. There are a lot of things you can use.

Hayes: So you've got this on the thing. Is that where blowing starts then?

Greer: Once you get the shape you want, then you just get a starter bubble in there.

Hayes: Now what's the shape?

Greer: Just a round bubble, just a round gather. Sometimes, depending on which way you're going, you'll use an oblong gather, but we're only talking something about this big.

Hayes: So a couple of inches around?

Greer: Yeah, a couple of inches around of glass.

Hayes: Now blowing is really blowing.

Greer: Blowing is blowing. We use what's called a cap and blow, or I do, a cap and blow method, which is where you give a quick blast into the pipe and then cap it with your thumb, and the heat at the end of it in the pipe causes it to expand out into the glass, into a nice even bubble.

Hayes: And then do you take your thumb off again?

Greer: Yes, when you get it the size you want it, you take the thumb off, shape it again.

Hayes: Shaping it with what? What are you using as a shaper?

Greer: Generally either the marver again, by rolling it.

Hayes: You're rolling it. You don't touch it at this point.

Greer: No.

Hayes: So you don't use any physical touching of paddles or anything like that?

Greer: Sometimes, sometimes.

Hayes: Oh you can?

Greer: It depends on what you're doing. You can use a mold, a wood mold to make it round. You can use a paddle to flatten one end. You can use the back of the jacks to chill it. There are just all kinds of things.

Hayes: The jacks?

Greer: The jacks are something that we use to put a stress mark in the glass to chill it, so that when we go to knock it off the pipe, it'll break off cleanly, a straight line. A lot of people think we're cutting the glass when they see us using the jacks, but actually, all we're doing is just trying to chill that one area of the glass so that when we give it a tap which causes a vibration, it'll break along that stress line.

Hayes: Do you go back into the furnace sometimes?

Greer: You go back into the furnace to gather more glass if you want to make it bigger. A lot of people think that it just starts out huge, but actually, it's multiple gathers on top of a bubble that just keeps building it bigger and bigger and bigger. And in between going and gathering more glass, you'll reheat it several times, probably in the glory hole.

Hayes: I'm just going to shut this off for a second. Now this is one of your pieces.

Greer: It is.

Hayes: I'm just fascinated that you come away with a lip shape. I just don't understand how you could force it to that shape. That's what I don't understand of the process. I can see a ball, you know, in other words, coming in a ball, but what helps it get to that shape?

Greer: Well when it's on the pipe, this is not here. It's even. It's a straight line. And this is the end and this is the part that's on the pipe.

Hayes: So you might put a paddle at the end to get that flat mark.

Greer: To flat it, to flatten this. And then in this case, we used a graphite paddle to get that curve, all the while blowing into it from this end.

Hayes: Is this a one-person process or a two-person process?

Greer: In this particular instance, it was two, because we added a bit here. The color of lip wrap, it's a different color. That green is added afterwards. So when it comes off the pipe, it's like this. And then actually, we'll do a lip wrap right then, break it off. The jack line would be here, break it off and then we'd transfer it. We'd stick a punty, which is just another rod that's basically going to be a temporary handle, turn it around and now we're working with the jacks and shaping this neck.

Hayes: So it's still hot enough to shape?

Greer: Generally, we have to go back to the glory hole and heat it back up again.

Hayes: The glory hole, that's what they call it?

Greer: That's what they call it. I didn't name it though, no, no, no. (laugh) No, the reason why it's called a glory hole, my understanding is it used to be that the only person who could ever go to the glory hole or reheat the pieces was the gaffer, himself. Now the gaffer is the glassblower. Actually, it's not real common to blow glass solo. Usually, there are several assistants and one person would be called a gatherer and one would get bits. So the gaffer was the one at the bench doing all the fun stuff. And at the last heat, he would take it to the glory hole and it would come out a finished piece. That's why he gets all the glory.

Hayes: Oh he gets all the glory.

Greer: So that's the glory hole.

Hayes: Of course, for the people who are just seeing the transcription, this is a wonderful solid piece at the bottom that has no color, and then there are these green, wild swirls, green and white and wonderful, and then like you said, the solid rim. How could you get the solid? How come it wouldn't be all green?

Greer: Because when we gather this, this would have been a very little bubble and then I would have gathered over it with more clear. The color would have been in there already and I would have gathered over it with clear.

Hayes: So in the furnace, are different glasses heating up?

Greer: No, no. I'm sorry. I missed the part about how I got the color, didn't I?

Hayes: Yes.

Greer: I start with clear on everything, and then this is colored frit, which is nothing but broken up pieces, little pieces of glass, both in white and green.

Hayes: And you put them in there?

Greer: They're on the marver table and then I take that solid bubble and lay it out in that frit. And then in this case, we would twist it to get the swirls. That's why you see some of them in different designs like that.

Hayes: So the bottom, you put it in frit, so that's why it's clear.

Greer: No, actually that would be the first gather. The second gather, then I'd go in with the color on there and cover it with clear again. And during the course of shaping it, pull all that clear to the bottom to keep it like this, and then flatten and smooth out the edge, because I could have blown it out to where it wouldn't have been clear, to where it would have been all color.

Hayes: Besides the artistic design elements, the color choice and so forth, there is just a tremendous amount of technical practice to get so you can do this, right?

Greer: Lots of practice.

Hayes: How many years do you think before somebody really, seriously can do a product that good?

Greer: If it's constant? I'm fortunate in that I get to do it-- I love-- every day of the weeks for eight hours a day. That's my job. Oh darn. (laugh) If you have constant practice at it and a natural skill, probably a couple years to be able to blow something like this.

Hayes: That's a lot of practice.

Greer: A lot of practice.

Hayes: For the people you teach, generally, who are interested in it as a craft or trying to get into it, they just don't get much time. It takes so long.

Greer: Right, it does. It does.

Hayes: And then you said in the old days, there was kind of almost an apprentice system then?

Greer: Right. In order to get into glassblowing, to even become a glassblower, you had to work as an apprentice for a long, long, long time before you could even touch a blowpipe.

Hayes: That kind of explains. You have a lot of technical equipment, and lots of energy costs and a long gestation period. That may explain why not as many people go into glass, right?

Greer: Not to mention the expense of all the equipment.

Hayes: And the glass, itself?

Greer: Glass, itself, is pretty reasonable. It's all the equipment that you have to have that is very expensive.

Hayes: And you use a lot of energy. Have you noticed a real change in your pricing for all of that as the cost of energy has gone up?

Greer: Right, right. I mean people are worried about the price of gas at the pumps. I'm worried about the price of gas at my pipes.

Hayes: Do you use propane?

Greer: Natural gas.

Hayes: Natural gas.

Greer: Mm hmm... but my furnace is electric. And everybody goes oh my gosh, I hate to think what your electric bills are, but actually, it's very efficient. It's very efficient.

Hayes: Do you have to keep it going all the time?

Greer: Twenty four hours a day.

Hayes: It's not effective if you let it go down and cool.

Greer: No.

Hayes: Even if you're not using it.

Greer: Right, because the glass, once you let it cool, it becomes a solid. And then if you try to heat it back up again, because it's sitting in a ceramic crucible--

Hayes: Oh it is sitting in ceramic.

Greer: Mm hmm.

Hayes: Oh good. I wondered about that. It just doesn't go to the bottom of the furnace.

Greer: No, no. It's sitting in a crucible. And if you let it cool down and then bring it back up again, you've got two different stress points there that generally, you could end up cracking your crucible and having a horrible mess. (laugh)

Hayes: Say you're done with this. It's still a very hot product.

Greer: Mm hmm.

Hayes: Do you leave it? Do you put it somewhere?

Greer: No, it goes into what we call the annealer, which is an oven. A lot of people, when they watch it, they think it's a refrigerator, but actually, it's an oven. And it goes in there and it'll sit in there. I keep it at about 1,050 degrees.

Hayes: Now you shaped it at 2,000 degrees?

Greer: Right, 2,100 is where it's molten. As it's cooled down, it's probably closer to 1,500, getting closer to about 1,000 degrees. And that's where you want it to stay to allow all the molecules in the glass to kind of settle, and then it has to slowly cool down.

Hayes: So how long does it stay at 1,000? It varies with each piece?

Greer: Well for thicker pieces, it has to stay there longer. I generally turn it on in the morning and let them just sit there all day long while I'm working. Then there's like a 40-minute time span. I'll let everything sit there so that the last ones in get the same amount of time as the first ones, and then it starts to slowly pull down.

Hayes: The oven, itself, has a technique.

Greer: It's programmable and so it's programmed to cool down about 100 degrees per hour.

Hayes: Oh my goodness. So the time you have in one piece like this, I mean you're not working with it that whole time, but--

Greer: Still paying for it that whole time. (laugh)

Hayes: But to just get your finished product is a long wait.

Greer: Right.

Hayes: It doesn't have the instant satisfaction of some forms of visual art.

Greer: No.

Hayes: But then very few of them are just done quickly, anyway. I mean a painter will tell you they don't just put one layer on.

Greer: Right, exactly.

Hayes: And it has to dry.

Greer: Well but it makes the mornings fun for me. It's like Christmas every morning, because while things can still happen to it while it's in the annealer, you still have the risk of losing it, so every morning, I come in, the first thing I do is check the annealers, say okay, what'd we get, how'd it look, what happened.

Hayes: Does it change significantly from when you put it in to when it comes out from a color and presence standpoint?

Greer: Colors will. Somebody asked me one time how come all you do is red. And I said well all glass, when it's hot, is red. So when it cools is when you start to see the color.

Hayes: So you still, until the very final end, you don't know.

Greer: No, you still don't really know what you've got, unless you've made a similar piece using similar colors. You can only hope you're going to get something as good as what you had.

Hayes: But like you couldn't reproduce those swirls ever.

Greer: No. No, that's what makes hand-blown glass one-of-a-kind because there is no way that I could make another one like this. It'd be similar, but it may not be exactly this tall, or have that exact diameter or any of that. So it does make it so that it's absolutely unique.

Hayes: The telling question is it can't be cheap then when you go to sell it, considering the time, and the energy and the quality of skill you have to have.

Greer: Right. Well that's one thing that I'm accused of is selling my artwork too cheaply. But it's not art to me unless someone has it, has bought it. And I would rather it being enjoyed in someone's home or a business or wherever than sitting on my shelf. Plus I can't make more until I sell what I've got. (laugh)

Hayes: You could stop, right?

Greer: I know but that doesn't make me any money, either. (laugh)

Hayes: Not good business.

Greer: That's right. That's where my business college education came into it. It's all about supply and demand. You can't supply if there is no demand.

Hayes: You mentioned earlier another methodology of selling is the wholesale market. Are you using that?

Greer: No. No, I have no interest. For me, wholesaling is like giving your product away.

Hayes: Because if they sell it, they want 50 percent or something.

Greer: Yeah. You know you get what you've got into it out of it, hopefully, plus a little bit of profit, but not much. And then you lose control over where your product goes. I have a good friend who owns a glass store here in town who says, "Why don't you let me show your pieces? Why don't you let me show your pieces?" And I don't show my pieces anywhere else because I think part of the adventure is being able to meet the artist, and being able to get a sense of the personality of the person who created it. You know it creates a memory, and to me, that's the most precious kind of art.

Hayes: How do you get them in here? That's the challenge. Of course, you just opened up this store when?

Greer: We opened the studio in August of 2007.

Hayes: Oh '07, okay, good, a whole year then.

Greer: Well no, we're not at August 2008 yet. (laugh) You're good with dates, huh? (laugh) The furnace part of the studio there, I did not open until November, so it was right before Christmas time. And of course, no matter how much advertising you do, word-of-mouth is the best type of advertising. It's finally getting to the point where now it's really gotten busy, and I'm looking forward to a busy tourist season and an even better Christmas.

Hayes: Those are the two elements here in Wilmington that would sustain you, right?

Greer: Right.

Hayes: So getting to them is a challenge, trying to figure out how to tell them to come on down.

Greer: It is. It is. Fortunately, I'm in an area here in the antique district to where we're doing a lot of advertising, trying to bring in more artists and letting them know what all is going on down here.

Hayes: I'm going to just pause for a minute and see if we can go into the studio. Would that be fine if we do this?

Greer: That's fine, mm hmm.

Hayes: Actually, I think I'll turn it off first.

(in studio)

Hayes: Okay, we're now out in-- do you call it a studio or a workshop?

Greer: I call it a studio.

Hayes: Okay, good. Tell us a few of these things that we went through. I'm just looking here at some-- is this a gas pipe?

Greer: Right. This is my torch table. This is fired by natural gas and oxygen. And then this particular one is what I teach to getting these on. It's called a hothead torch.

Hayes: Hothead, huh?

Greer: Yeah, because you can buy this map gas at Lowe's. It's something that they can set up at home and continue to make beads. This is the torch table. I can teach up to six people at one time.

Hayes: So I'm looking here at some little product that somebody was working on, kind of a bead type product.

Greer: Well we had an open torch night a couple nights ago, and these were some of the people who've never played with glass before came and just were playing with the torch and getting that experience.

Hayes: Is this a little kiln over here?

Greer: This is. This is a bead kiln that I keep so that when I'm working on beads or we're teaching a bead class that we can anneal them right in there.

Hayes: Okay and then looking at a few, kind of an ornament type product from another time, I take it.

Greer: Right. Every time I get a new color at the furnace, I'll blow a ball, just to have an instant look at what the finished color's going to look like.

Hayes: Oh good. Now what is this kind of odd stuff that looks almost like medical piping here?

Greer: (laugh) That is borosilicate rod and tubing that's used here at the torch. When you're making Christmas ornaments, the tubing is what you use.

Hayes: To get it started, so you don't have to blow it.

Greer: Right.

Hayes: Oh that's interesting.

Greer: This is called a coffin kiln. This is where I do a lot of my fusing and slumping. And this is another kiln here that is also used for that. The very large one, that's for the larger items.

Hayes: Good and then I've got some interesting clamps. This is the actual glass here?

Greer: This is the marver and the colors you see there are the glass frit. That's how we get color into the clear glass.

Hayes: All right, the marvel. This must be a working spot then?

Greer: Right.

Hayes: This isn't particularly large. I mean is that the normal?

Greer: Yeah. A lot of them will have larger ones. It just depends.

Hayes: Good and I see all kinds of different marked glass. And then the big pieces are outside.

Greer: No, they're all right here.

Hayes: Oh okay.

Greer: This is the glassblower's bench with another handheld torch there that we use to heat up parts of the glass. And when we were talking about jacks earlier, that's what this is. These are jacks.

Hayes: And I see some rods over here. These are what you call the rods.

Greer: Those are the pipes and this is the furnace here.

Hayes: Okay. Woo!

Greer: Yeah see, that's everybody. (laugh)

Hayes: Stepping back. (laugh)

Greer: That's where the glass is. That's the glory hole. It's not lit up right now. And then next to that is my knock off table. That's where when we're done with a piece, we'll go and knock it off of the pipe. And then this is the annealer, and that's where it goes into after that.

Hayes: Now what's this kind of brushy thing over here?

Greer: That is a lap grinder. That's what we use to kind of finish up the bottoms on the pieces to get them nice and smooth, if they didn't come off cleanly off the pipe.

Hayes: A lot of electrical power in here. So gas, you mentioned that you save every day, right?

Greer: (laugh) Absolutely, I do recycle as much of it as I can--

Hayes: That's good.

Greer: --so that I don't have to keep buying it all the time. And this is my reject table. That's where I put things. I have several people come in and I let them just take whatever they want.

Hayes: I see there's kind of balls. That's another technique, kind of an art technique. They're called a paperweight, but they're more than that.

Greer: They are. They're more than that. There's a lot to it. Most glassblowers don't like to admit they make paperweights, but I love paperweights. I always have. They're a lot of fun to make. If you want to just play, that's generally what I do.

Hayes: You can test out techniques, and colors and bubbles.

Greer: Right and see, I love bubbles in glass, so for me, paperweights are perfect. I don't like bubbles in blown glass, but I do like it in solid glass. (laugh)

Hayes: Okay, well this is really great. And I want to thank you. You mentioned before that you're getting to do a hobby at a fine art level and hoping to make a living from it.

Greer: That's right.

Hayes: That's a pretty powerful message to people. If they want to be artists, try to find something that they can do all the time, right?

Greer: Right. You've got to love what you do; otherwise, everything becomes a job. I love what I do, which means I don't mine working 12 hours to hopefully make it a success.

Hayes: Thank you.

UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Found in:
Randall Library | UNCW Archives and Special Collections | Online Database | Contact Us | Admin Login
Powered by Archon Version 3.21 rev-1
Copyright ©2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign