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A Passion for Glass

Even as the craft of glassblowing declines, an intern prepares to enter a venerated field

Email icon  alb487@nyu.edu

In the stainless steel and concrete confines of Urban Glass in Brooklyn, New York, two glassmakers - a teacher and his student - plotted their session.

Isaac Tecosky, the teacher, sketched in chalk on the floor. He drew an outline of a rod holding the base of a pot, and strands of fiery hot glass.

“Bit by bit, we’re going to build something,” he said. He reassured his student, Sara Hingley: “We’re more interested in the process than the product.”

Hingley, a 21-year-old New York University student, has come here every Sunday of late, to work with second and third generation glassblowers who learned their craft from the Studio Glass Movement.

Glassblowing has only established a U.S. presence during the past 60 years – yet it is already waning. There are fewer than 100 glassmakers in New York City now; all use four glassblowing studios in this area to create their work.

Hingley is optimistically starting a journey in a field in which a relative few have flourished.

“The allure is that it’s different, and not too many people do it,” said Tecosky. “And then once you get past that, there’s a deep love and passion.”

Tecosky, 26, started blowing glass three years ago, after graduating from Hampshire College in Massachusetts with a degree in sculpting, and following his older brother to Urban Glass.

As glassblowing isn’t a full time living, he multitasks. He works making light fixtures as a gaffer, or lead glassblower, for Niche Modern Design; he helps artists at Urban Glass; he teaches; and he travels the East Coast assisting at glassblowing workshops.

“I want to make beautiful objects,” Tecosky said. “And I don’t mind making glass for other people.”

His quick climb in the field is unusual. New York City artisans are tight knit group, with loyalty driving hiring.

“It’s really difficult to break in, because there are people who have been here a long time,” said Tecosky. “The longer you’ve been here and also the kind of skill you acquire is what determines how often you get hired.”

“I was really hungry for it, and I didn’t want to do anything else,” he said. “That wasn’t an option, so I just made it happen.”

Hingley showed the same determination last fall when she came to glassblower Kanik Chung’s showroom seeking professional guidance. Chung had taught Hingley at NYU the previous semester. She emailed him about an apprenticeship, but after six weeks of no reply, she decided to track him down. It took nerve.

“You’re already in Brooklyn. You know where [the showroom] is and that he’s there on Fridays. Just show up,” Hingley told herself as she listened to “Where You Wanna Go” by David Rush on the subway to pump herself up. “That’s not something I ever do.”

After chatting with his former student at the showroom at 70 John Street, in Brooklyn’s industrial-turned-arts district DUMBO, Chung invited Hingley to help retrieve four light fixtures from his workshop. She jumped at the opportunity. They hopped in a cab to Urban Glass, about a mile and a half away. Chung procured four boxes that were hardly fit to pack the long, cylindrical pieces he would take.

“They looked like they had been taped up, torn apart, and left out in the rain. They were so soggy and misshapen,” said Hingley. When they finished, Hingley asked with a chuckle at the odd job: “Kanik, you’re a professional, right?”

Luckily for Hingley, he is. Chung is among a handful of glassblowing professionals in New York City. During seven months of working for him, Hingley witnessed his struggle. Chung works 18-hour days creating glass, managing his showroom, and promoting his artwork.

“I see how hard he works, but he doesn’t let onto it,” said Hingley. “He says everyone he knows works just as hard.”

Chung’s work is simple, with minimal color. Signature pieces include dewdrop vases, U-shaped candelabras, and chunky glass with floating bubbles as the bases for bookends, lamps, and candleholders. These modern design pieces stand in contrast to his latest line of chick-shaped vases, which Chung created to make money.

“The chicks sell,” Chung said during an Architectural Digest show in March. “Women think they’re adorable and have to have one.”

Chung has an Master’s in Fine Arts, and teaches, but he prefers to work. The dozen students in Hingley’s class created simple fish, but Hingley was immediately drawn to his style.

“He gave me all the information I needed, plus tons of information that I would probably never need to know,” said Hingley.

The tuition Hingley pays to NYU only gives her course credit. Paying for studio time and instruction is up to her. Hingley works at a tutor through the America Reads program and uses her mother’s disabled veteran’s college stipend to pay $100 per week for a three-hour session with Isaac as well as up to $50 per hour for time at Urban Glass.

“I’m good with budgeting,” Hingley said with a sigh. “And I usually don’t go out.”

Such sacrifice puts Hingley a step above other glassblowing students in the area, but she envies arts students who have more plentiful access to a glassblowing studio.

On a trip to the Massachusetts College of Art and Design with Chung in April, she met with students who get 10 free hours in the studio. Hingley pays bucket loads in comparison for a mere three hours per week. She does, however, make the most of the time, as she works with some of the best craftsmen in the business.

Tecosky says Hingley is on the path to success. “She’s very similar to a lot of us,” he said. “She’s driven, passionate, and she knows how to make connections. It wouldn’t take her long to get where I am.”

But for Hingley, it’s comes down to whether she can make a living after she graduates. “If I knew that I could support myself through glassblowing, I would blow glass and that’s it,” she said. “It’s going to be a part of my life for the rest of my life,” she continued. “Whether it’s going to be my career, I’m not sure.”

Alexis Brown studies journalism at New York University.

Glassblowing is a demanding but waning specialty, and afficionados struggle to make a living. Photo by Alexis Brown