Heart of Glass - Blenko Glass
Blenko Glass is a West Virginia treasure that spans generations. Nothing symbolizes the state of West Virginia better or more beautifully than Blenko Glass. We will discuss current and former craftsmen and designers and how important it is that Blenko and West Virginia glass be appreciated and valued by the younger generation.
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
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T. Patti sent this article.
I don’t see many articles that start with a photo of a glass lathe, so I thought others might find this article interesting also.
As the official glassblower of the chemistry department at UBC, Brian Ditchburn probably has one of the most unique jobs on campus.
“I do a lot of repairs, custom fabrication of scientific apparatus, one-offs. Things that chemists dream up in their research, I help them build,” said Ditchburn. “Glass is just fantastic.”
Glass, he said, is chemically inert and heat-resistant, which makes it very useful for chemistry because it will not impact the outcome of experiments.
Ditchburn got involved with glassblowing at a very early age; he started an apprenticeship with his father at the age of 13.
“That’s generally how most glassblowers get into the trade,” he said. “They’re taught by their family.”
His father taught him how to work with neon, and later taught him scientific glassblowing, which is what Ditchburn does now. Ditchburn then went to New Jersey for two years to get his glassblowing degree. After five years of working at a scientific glass shop in Detroit, he came to UBC. This November marks the 14th year of his glassblowing career at the university.
“[With neon], there’s only seven or eight basic bends, so you tend to do the same thing over and over again,” he said. “That was another fun part of the job, but moving on to scientific is probably the best thing I ever did.”
He didn’t always plan on becoming a glassblower, though. “I actually thought I was going to join the army,” he said. “I ended up joining the reserves for a long period of time, but glassblowing dragged me back.”
Since then, it’s never been a question for him, and every day brings new surprises. “Glassblowing is something you learn every day; there’s always something new to learn. Sometimes you have to relearn things as new materials come in, or new objects need to be created,” Ditchburn explained.
Ditchburn was quick to note the important distinction between scientific and artistic glassblowing.
“I don’t classify myself as an artist, because artists create things out of their own mind and they make [them],” he said. “What I do is, from a drawing I manufacture. It’s more like a craft than an art…. It’s technical, it’s challenging, there’s always something new coming over the horizon that you get to try to manufacture.”
Ditchburn’s involvement in glassblowing doesn’t stop at his job, either. Once a year, he makes glass icicles for a charity project run by UBC’s Graduate Student Society. He gives glassblowing demonstrations at high schools and during Science Week at UBC. Ditchburn is also an active member of the American Scientific Glassblowers Society (ASGS), which hosts yearly symposiums to demonstrate and discuss the newest advancements in glassblowing.
“All glassblowers tend to know each other,” he said. “We’re such a small group that [we're] very tight-knit.”
Ditchburn’s wishes for his career are simple: “Just to grow as a glassblower,” he said. “To enjoy what I do, which is not hard, to tell you the truth.”