In an old stone church just behind The University of Akron is the city’s only public hot glass studio, Akron Glass Works. Founded in 1998 by Jack Baker, the studio showcases the practical and ethereal artistry of glass as well as a retail space, hands-on classes, and one of the more unique event venues in the area.
Inspired by seeing an exhibition of world renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly at the Akron Art Museum, Jack became deeply interested in the medium, going as far as traveling to Seattle to visit Dale Chihuly’s main studio. The artistry of Chihuly affected Jack on an almost spiritual level. “[I] emotionally got carried away with it, and I knew I wanted to bring it back home Akron.”
Already the owner of Architectural Greenery, a company that places and maintains plants in professional settings, Jack first approached glass art as a hobby. To learn the basics, Jack signed up for a glassblowing course at Canada’s Rudolf Steiner College. He developed the skills and knowledge he needed to open a studio in Akron and teach others about the art. Expanding out of his space for Architectural Greenery in the Northside area near Luigis, he grew Akron Glass Works into a premiere hot glass studio. Over course the of 20 years, the studio came to be a business equal to his plant business and it became increasingly clear that he needed to expand.
Jack left his Northside studio and secured the old church at 421 Spicer Street, tripling his available space, and created a new use for one of Akron’s beautiful old churches. The Spicer Street location offers multiple glass workshops, gallery space, a retail shop focused on work by local artists, and even room for weddings or other events. Today, Akron Glass Works supports six trained glassblowers and full-time administrative staff.
Jack says he likes to tell people who visit the glassworks, “the glass blowers are really lucky that I’m here and I’m really lucky that they are.”
Visitors can watch the artists through large windows and experience the swiftness and precision needed to sculpt molten glass confidently. With only a few specialized tools, bits of colored glass, and thick wet cloths, these artists can create everything from beautifully colored glassware to intricately detailed chandeliers. And while it is wonderful to watch the glassworking firsthand, few things are as unforgettable as actually shaping the glass yourself.
Akron Glass Works classes are thrilling and creatively satisfying. Few artistic endeavors feel less safe than glasswork. The heat of the furnace alone is the type of heat you can feel deep in your chest and instantly inspires caution. But once the molten glass is removed, you are guided through steps to shape the glass, effortlessly moving and shaping a material generally thought of as the very definition of fragile.
Akron Glass Works offers classes for those 15 and older in glass blowing, glass fusing, and even private events for groups. They plan to open a space to do glass beadwork and the creation of glass lamp covers.
September is the start of their glass pumpkin season, where students can learn how to make a decorative pumpkin. It’s Akron Glass Works’ most popular class, with almost every weekend September through November booking quickly.
“It’s not really all about how pretty of an item you’re going to get. It’s the experience of the different steps involved that a glassblower would go to though to make something,” he says, adding with a smile that the instructors are mandated to make sure the pieces do come out looking nice.
While working with glass can be dangerous, Jack emphasizes that they take precautions to ensure students are safe and that anyone can do it. They keep the classes small and the instructors are always nearby.
“I would just look at people and say, we’re doing a slow dance, I got the lead,” he says.
In an unexpected turn for Jack, Akron Glass Works has also found some viral social media success. Starting with live videos on Facebook, the Akron Glass Work Team transitioned to TikTok, a popular platform that focuses on short creative videos, with a page that now boasts 1.2 million followers, over 19 million likes, and hundreds of millions of views.
“It’s been, you know, quite a win-win situation for us… and keeps us really current to young people,“ Jack says.
You can visit Akron Glass Works, Tuesday through Friday: 10 am to 6 pm or Saturday: 10 am to 5 pm. The studio is located at 421 Spicer Street. More information can be found by calling 330.253.5888 or going to their website https://www.akronglassworks.com.
Ken Evans finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.
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