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Jessica Schimpf stands in front of a 2,000-degree furnace. Her body is tense, poised, as she dips a long metal pole—called a blowpipe—into a smoldering furnace. She’s dressed in knee-length shorts and a T-shirt, but the heat in the workshop is still cloying. Her dark brown hair is pulled back in a high ponytail, but rogue strands keep sticking to the sweat on her temple.
Slowly, but as if it is no big deal, she pulls the rod from the fire. On its tip is a ball of molten glass that clings to the pole like dripping molasses. She pivots on her heels and walks to her workbench. This movement—this ritual—is what happens most days as Schimpf creates glass-blown art for her company, Mantra Glass Art, out of a studio in Lakewood. She may look like she’s been doing this for years, but Schimpf only picked up glasswork in 2009 (she’d worked as a welder previously) after a friend introduced her to the practice—an “aha” moment, she says.
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Now, Schimpf eases onto a bench and rests the metal pole horizontally on a holder. Slowly, she starts to knead and twirl the blowpipe with her left palm, while its opposite end is coddled by a smooth piece of cloth in her right hand. The sleek egg-shaped bulb rounds out and Schimpf blows air through a hose to expand the glass like a balloon.
Many of Schimpf’s creations are 100-percent recycled glass terrariums, a living environment that functions as an alternative to the potted plant (pictured, right). She describes the terrariums as organic—imperfect—because she doesn’t aim to create a perfect globe, but a more natural shape. “[It is] a form of eco-art, of art that is alive,” Schimpf says.
After a few minutes, the glass hardens, so Schimpf picks up the blowpipe and heads back to the furnace where she starts the process all over again. On her third round, the glass bowl collapses. You might think that would bum Schimpf out, but failure is not only part of the glass-blowing process, it’s part of her business: She re-melts pieces of clear glass to reuse for future art pieces. Which means that in Schimpf’s studio, shattered glass is just the beginning.
Watch Schimpf perfect her process in this 5280 video exclusive, “Melting Room.”
Want a terrarium? You can learn how to make your own in one of Mantra Glass Art’s classes, or purchase one of Schimpf’s handmade pieces ($25–$150) online.
Follow digital assistant editor Jerilyn Forsythe on Twitter at @jlforsyt.