PUBLISHED: 4:50 PM on Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Glassblowing studio opens in Skagway
Garden City Glassworks
SKAGWAY - Garden City Glassworks, a glassblowing studio, is the newest hotspot attracting locals and visitors alike in Skagway.

With instruction, creative minds and talented hands-beautiful hand blown pieces are created. The company had its grand opening May 21.

Located a mile from town, Garden City Glassworks is nestled at the base of a rock wall amid the Jewell Gardens, an impressive show garden. While there are a few private glassblowing studios in the Last Frontier, none are open to the public.

Jewell Gardens owners Jim and Charlotte Jewell went beyond retailing glass garden art to creating a glassblowing studio.

Courtesy photo
  Glassblowing artist, Kerry Longaker, of Garden City Glassworks in Skagway, rolls a ball of molten glass on a blowpipe.
A tourist attraction of many cruise ship shore excursions in Skagway, the Jewell's saw the chance to create a completely new experience for visitors and residents alike, and make their own garden glass at the same time.

"The anticipation was palpable because we've been talking about it all spring," general manager Bill Fletcher said.

He brought the glass studio idea with him when he joined the company this March to run owner's Jim and Charlotte Jewell's operation.

"My idea to add the glass was the sizzle the garden craved," he said.

The project was inspired by the 'Gardens & Glass' series of installations by renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly.

"He's the father of modern glass in the Northwest," Fletcher said.

The color and organic form of hand blown glass art seemed the perfect complement to the natural display of color and form in the Jewell Gardens.

Garden City Glassworks offer high-end programs that include lunch, beer or wine and studio time for visiting tourists off cruise ships; the package price is about $150 dollars.

Through connections on Whidbey Island in Washington, Fletcher found Kerry Longaker a glassblowing artist and industry veteran with 30 years experience - to oversee the construction and operation of the garden hot shop.

Longaker was previously the production manager of the Glass Eye in Seattle, on of the largest hand blown glass company in the country.

The other unique talent is glass blowing artist Jordan Kube, who specializes in modern glass blowing.

Longaker and his studio crew plan on operating the studio seven days a week through September of each year.

"On slower days, they're (staff) just going crazy making glass," he said.

Garden visitors are able to either watch the process of glassblowing, or can even try it themselves.

Those who do blow their own piece can choose their own color and add real gold for spectacular effect.

"There's a little bit of apprehension being that close to molten glass. It turns to excitement, especially when watching people ahead of them," Fletcher said. "Folks come and blow a simple ornament or bowl."

The process takes a few steps and some serious equipment. A glass-melting furnace runs continuously at 2100 degrees; it's never turned off because the furnace takes three day for glass to melt properly.

Next a blowpipe is placed in a pipe warmer, then dipped into the molten glass.

Following is a technique called "gathering the glass," in which a blob of glass is bound onto the blowpipe.

"The pipe needs to be rotated at a continual motion of speed-it's all about gravity and heat," Fletcher said.

"What that artists does is use tricks and tools to use gravity at (their) advantage," he said.

The product is placed in a "glory hole," a dramatic reheating furnace with a front opening.

Color can be added in the furnace or through a rolling process.

Once the hot glass is rolled into an even cylindrical shape, it's rolled through "frit," colored bits of glass on a metal table.

The glass product is then placed back in the glory hole, and the frit is melted.

The final piece is placed in an annealer, a kiln that cools glass down at a controlled rate.

Over a period of eight hours the glass cools from 1000 degrees to 100 degrees.

Garden City Glassworks ships the finished product home for clients once they've cooled the next day.

"They love it-it's mesmerizing and intriguing to everybody," Fletcher said.

According to Fletcher, there is also strong interest in organizing half-day glassblowing workshops for locals - something he hopes to be able to offer by late summer.

"We're trying to spread the 'glass' everywhere," he said.