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2,000 Degrees: Glassblowing in the Bayview

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Nate Watson uses a steel tool to push a blown piece of glass at the end of a steel rod.
Nate Watson (Pendarvis Harshaw)

The art of glassblowing dates back to the first century AD. But these days you can see it practiced as artist sculpt molten glass with steel tools to create everything from high-priced chandeliers to inexpensive Christmas ornaments. It’s nothing short of alchemy. And though many of the techniques have been around for centuries, I’m not sure old school glassblowers were making glass carnivorous plants to decorate their walls.

At San Francisco’s Public Glass, locals have the opportunity to get hands on experience in this ancient and evolving craft.

The organization’s executive director, Nathan Watson, says his mission is to ensure that Public Glass isn’t just located in the Bayview neighborhood, but actually involves community members in their work.

Nathan Watson, Executive Director of Public Glass, poses for a photo as he wears a white t-shirt and a bandana around his neck.
Nathan Watson, Executive Director of Public Glass. (Pendarvis Harshaw)

Just last month, Public Glass completed their Bayview Gateway Project, a set of eight-foot tall concrete letters adorned with mosaic tiles made from old glass objects that community members donated; the letters read “BAYVIEW” and are located at Third Street and Meade Avenue. 

Although some glassblowing artists have recently returned to the studio, traditional classes aren’t currently open to the public due to COVID-19 safety precautions. But the organization will be hosting an open house on October 16 and 17.

Ahead of that event, the Rightnowish team caught up with Nate inside the glassblowing studio, and discussed what it means to lead an organization that’s keeping this ancient art form going by bringing community members into the fold.

Taking some molten glass out of a fiery glory hole in preparation to mold it into a a beautiful object.
Taking some molten glass out of a fiery glory hole in preparation to mold it into a a beautiful object. (Pendarvis Harshaw)

Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or click the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.


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