Kathleen Andersen has been a glassblower at Hudson Beach Glass in Beacon for 15 years.
How did you get into glassblowing?
I first saw it at a studio in Vermont with my grandmother when I was 10 years old. They were making glass “ice cubes.” I just stared, amazed that they could do that with glass. We went back a few times. As I got older, I did a lot of drawing and painting. I’ve been into art for most of my life and, when I decided to pursue it, I wanted a school that would let me try everything. I had never done welding or metalsmithing, and certainly not glassblowing. I looked at 26 schools and the best fit for me was Alfred University [in upstate New York]. When I was a junior, friends who were studying glassblowing convinced me to just try, and I was hooked. I graduated in 2008 and three months later got a job at Hudson Beach Glass.
Is it mostly art, or mostly science?
It’s a nice balance of both. If you enjoy the science, you can pursue that. If it’s not of interest, you don’t have to pay much attention to it. If you work at a studio where someone else can take care of the science, you can just do the glassmaking, although you still need some understanding. If something is breaking all the time, it’s probably about the science. Glass is all about formulas. The glass and colors I work with have to be compatible; they all have to shrink at the same rate. Furnace temperature is important. Even when I’m done making something, it’s still over 1,000 degrees and has to go into a specialized oven to cool at a specific rate. What draws me in are the colors and how they react. I might have a pink and a blue. When they mix, they make green, which is crazy.
Do you know anything about the origins of the craft?
It’s been around since the ancient Egyptians. They also worked with metals such as copper, silver and gold, which have a similar melting temperature to glass. But glassblowing dates to the Phoenician Empire [1550 to 300 BCE]. They were the first to make furnaces hot enough to smelt iron. That enabled them to make iron pipes, including tubes used for glassblowing.
Where does the sand you use to make the glass come from?
It’s from deposits in Washington state that are pre-melted for our studio. There are also deposits in Wisconsin and Virginia. You want a clean silica deposit; the whiter the sand, the fewer impurities. If I were to use Hudson River sand, which has more iron and other elements, the glass would probably end up a green-brown color. Our manufacturer’s glass is clear and compatible with the colors I use. The colors are also glass and come in bars, shaped like hard-cookie dough. I buy them from three companies based in Germany.
How often have you been burned?
Rarely. You might develop a tiny blister you don’t notice until five days later. I’ve had maybe five memorable burns, and three of those were in my first two years. If you get burned while glassblowing, you’ll never get burned the same way again. It’s sense memory. If you’re reaching for something hot, your hand recognizes the heat even before your brain does. I’m more likely to get thin cuts, like paper cuts, from glass shards.
This woman is very special. She is exceptionally kind and totally brilliant. Don’t let her humble nature mask any of that! She has made glassblowing experts of me and my children for years and years. [via Instagram]