“People who aren’t creative have no idea how scary it is,” John Hudnut tells me shortly after I walk in the door of Frisco’s GatherHouse Glassblowing Studio + Gallery. “Ugly is easy.”
Hudnut is an accomplished glassblower who, along with his wife, Kate, has operated the mountain town workshop and gallery since 2007. Here, visitors not only get a glimpse at how Hudnut’s one-of-a-kind pieces are made, but they can also take part in the creative process through demonstrations and hands-on classes.
On a day in July, a friend and I decided to stop by the cozy space that serves as both a colorful retail outlet and a working studio. In a hot room, surrounded by benches, torches, rods, and glowing furnaces, John graciously greets several out-of-state visitors—and then, to their surprise, calmly starts giving orders. “It’s all about teamwork,” he says.
Hudnut uses a long, metal rod to carefully collect a small scoop of molten silica—reaching up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit—from the red-hot furnace. After seating himself, he uses long pliers to pinch, stretch, and twirl the goo for about a minute to fashion a sparkling rose. He then asks my startled friend, who was quietly standing in a corner, to grab a blowtorch and use its powerful flame to re-soften the hardening glass.
During Hudnut’s next demo, he directs other spectators on how to swirl glass in vivid shades of color, brandish a shield to offer protection from the heat, and blow into a hollow pipe to inflate the silica into what quickly becomes a small vase. “Someone muscles, someone blows, someone shields, and another person shapes,” he says. Soon, nearly all the spectators have become participants in what appears to be (but is not) a painstakingly choreographed show. It’s what Hudnut calls team glassblowing—a process he learned while studying the art around the world.
Hudnut didn’t plan to become a glassblower. He only took one elective in the art form during his time studying industrial design at Philadelphia University. Instead, after graduation, he worked odd jobs as a product designer before embarking upon a trip to Europe (he even spent time working on a pig farm in Greece). It was here that he became engrossed in the craft, seeking out established glassblowers and volunteering in their workshops. After meeting Kate and following her to Paris, Hudnut apprenticed in a studio and really began to learn the trade. He continued his studies when they returned to the U.S., even attending an intensive course at the renowned Pilchuck Glass School in Washington, which was founded in 1971 by famed glass artist Dale Chihuly.
Today, Hudnut creates a selection of colorful and intricately-shaped pitchers, goblets, vases, bowls, and animal-shaped figurines that he sells at GatherHouse, as well as at local galleries and craft shows. But it’s his focus on community that has made the GatherHouse a must-visit attraction in Summit County. Hudnut’s hands-on demonstrations, which are free and open to the public three days a week, draw visitors from across the U.S. Additionally, the GatherHouse offers additional training—a one-hour Mini Glassblowing course ($100 per person) and a three-hour Glassblowing 101 class ($145), both of which are by appointment only. Several years ago, Hudnut created a mentorship program with Frisco Elementary School to give local fourth and fifth graders an opportunity to assist in his workshop. After learning the basics, each mentee creates an icicle-like glass ornament that dangles from a chandelier in their school.
Hudnut clearly enjoys getting other people involved in his work, and by doing so, he hopes to impart in them a sense of wonder—and to demonstrate that they, too, can create something beautiful using fire, grit, and yes, teamwork.
Try it out: The GatherHouse, located at 110 Second Ave. in Frisco, holds glassblowing demonstrations on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday afternoons between 2 and 6 p.m. His glassblowing courses are available by appointment only. Call 970-485-2909 for more info.