Hot Glass, Cold Beer
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A bright light shines from a loading dock on a dark, industrial street in the Bayview district. White walls and glistening glass sculptures shimmer just up a set of wooden steps with a posted security guard. Inside, we check in and are pointed towards a table surrounded by a crowd and covered in glass cups. Everyone’s picking out the glass they will drink from tonight and eventually take home, part of their reward for attending Hot Glass, Cold Beer at Public Glass.
In the front entryway is a display of fantastic sculptures. There’s a donut, a cigarette, and a larger than life beer. “I don’t know how people do this,” says SF resident Kate Troescher, looking at the detailed art. Like many here tonight, this is her first time here. “Some friends said, ‘We’re going to drink beer and watch people blow glass on Saturday night.’ I said: ‘I’m in.’”
Not far away, Eric Yue and Jason Kwan are looking at an incredibly life-like sculpture of a seascape, including fish, plants and rock. “It’s really, really impressive,” says Kwan, who heard about the event months ago but has finally made it out. “It’s great. You get to leave with an original piece. I’m thoroughly enjoying it.”
Glass art ornaments little nooks and crannies around the room. Crystal-clear pumpkins with twirling green stems fill one shelf. Sitting on a counter, a beach-ball sized bubble of glass has been draped over a driftwood log. A large chalk-board is littered with ideas for tonight’s live glass sculpting. Some recommendations are ambitious (a snowflake, a penguin, a unicorn), while others are juvenile (a toilet, a penis).
Since it’s the holidays, the artists have decided to craft a Christmas Tree. San Francisco Latin-infused funk and hip-hop troupe the Bayonics are on hand to provide the soundtrack. They start off with “Pusherman,” by Curtis Mayfield as Public Glass volunteers begin creating the glass tree. Ian Whitt spins globs of hot molten glass on the end of a tube and brings them over to the bench where Lance Fraser sits, shaping the molten mess with tongs and shears. A rapt crowd sits and watches the tree slowly take shape.
Remarkably, although dangerously hot glass is moving through the revelers, there seems to be few qualms about the burning hot glass. People are aware of the fact that they’re in an industrial glass-blowing facility and are behaving accordingly. No running, no sloppy drunkenness.
In addition to stout and amber beers, the party also has wine and a table of chips and carrot sticks. But in the next studio over, just down a breezeway, Bocados catering is offering eight delicious tapas. The rosemary chicken skewers are fantastic, but the chorizo and quail egg with roasted mild green pepper is amazing. A table is covered with a delightful display of tiny tasty bites of prawns, salmon, deviled eggs and mushrooms.
“This is totally the concept of what pintxos is made for,” says Bocados chef Laura Vail, describing the particular type of tapas they serve. “You have all this variety displayed. It can’t just be a cheese plate. It has to be artistic and go with the glass blowing.”
Just past the artisanal tapas, a group gathers ‘round another sculpting demonstration. Mason “Gremlin” Layman applies a torch to clear glass rods, connecting them in an obscure yet symmetrical pattern that makes it obvious he’s done this before. He grins as he works, moving swiftly and swaying with the music. After several minutes, he takes out a marble and rolls it down the rails of his “kinetic sculpture,” sending it into a glass funnel, and falling finally on the table. He then takes the shining mini-marble roller-coaster over to a side table and sets it next to a similar creation he crafted earlier this evening.
Out in the breezeway, Public Glass coordinator Brynn Hurlstone is taking a break from helping director Nate Watson make sure everything’s running smoothly. “It’s literally just Nate and I and a team of really dedicated volunteers making this all happen,” she says. “We can use all the help we can get.”
In addition to throwing a darned fine party every other month, Public Glass offers classes to people of all ages. They have introductory courses with no experience requirements and offer more advanced options, including private instruction. Experienced glass artists can also rent work space and tools.
The Next Hot Glass, Cold Beer event at Public Glass will be this Saturday, January 30. It costs $35 which includes a glass you get to take home and all the beer or wine you care to drink during the party. Just watch out for the molten glass!