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Published: Saturday, 11/16/2002

Ancient art fires up fans

Jon Zapiecki, 17, of Toledo, works on a new creation in his glass bead-making class at the Toledo Museum of Art. Jon Zapiecki, 17, of Toledo, works on a new creation in his glass bead-making class at the Toledo Museum of Art.

Their eyes, shielded by oversized dark glasses, are fixed on jets of fire.

Seated behind small torches clamped onto the table, these six teenagers are studies in concentration. Slowly, they twist rods of glass in the dart-ing blue flames. Molten colors drip. Abstract swirls are stretched and turned.

Don Miller understands such rapt attention. “Once you start melting glass in the flame, it becomes mesmerizing. Time just goes flying by,” said Mr. Miller, who teaches bead making at the Toledo Museum of Art. This technique is called flamework, or lampwork, because lamps were once used to melt glass.

TMA has offered glass-blowing classes since the 1960s, but interest in glass has increased and new classes have been added. In the last four years, enrollment in glass classes has more than doubled, to 430 students, said Greg Jones, managing director of the school of art and design.

“This really affects a shift in our whole attitude. We want to represent all the facets that are going to be offered at the new glass center,” Mr. Jones said.

All types of glass work are popular, said Leonard Marty, who is largely responsible for building TMA's program. And lampwork will continue to be a key offering.

“That's one of the reasons we're building the new glass center,” said Mr. Marty, studio administrator and instructor. The process of creating marble-sized glass objects is lighter and more relaxed than furnace work or glassblowing, he said.

Four bead-making classes each term, offered since January, have filled. And in early 2003, the museum will rent studio time to people who have completed courses.

Class member Nate Masternak, 17, manipulates an oozing orange lump. A friend asked him to make a mushroom, and he liked it so much he's making one for himself.

“I really enjoy experimenting with these,” said young Masternak, of Toledo. “You can be really natural but you can get really messy with it.”

He'll macrame his beads with hemp twine into necklaces and bracelets.

Gina Cousino, 17, announces to the group that the bead she is completing is her very best. It's a cylinder of crisp blue, red, green, and yellow. “I'm probably going to learn how to string it like Nate,” said Ms. Cousino, who attends Northwood High School.

Beads have been made from glass for at least 3,000 years. It was all but forgotten in the 20th century until recently. In 1993 the International Society of Glass Beadmakers was established, and now has 1,220 members.

Gini Porritt, a former systems analyst, has made beads for nearly four years. Time so thoroughly disappears when she makes glass, she sometimes sets an alarm clock. “To me, it's an addiction,” she said.

Ms. Porritt teaches a weekend class she calls “playing with glass” once a month, and two tracks of an eight-week class at Gallery B, a near-downtown studio she co-owns. Classes fill by word of mouth, and she rents torch-time to former students.

Another popular material for making beads is polymer clay, a fairly inexpensive and pliable petroleum-based product that produces beautiful colors. It can be run through a pasta machine to make uniform layers, and instead of baking in a kiln like other clay, it can be baked in a home oven.

Kimberly Arden is a Temperance polymer clay artist and teacher.

“Most of my classes revolve around bead making,” said Ms. Arden. She incorporates beads into most of her art, whether it's jewelry, a table, or a lamp. “Just because it's a bead doesn't mean it's for adornment only.”

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