INDIANAPOLIS– Over 30 years ago, Lisa Pelo discovered her passion for glass art through a bit of happenstance when she chose glassblowing as an elective class in college.
“I stayed two more years to get my BFA specialty in glass,” she said. “I loved it [and] I knew it was going to be a career at some point.”
Since then, she has been sharing her passion for glass art—first as an instructor and department head at the Indianapolis Art Center and now as the executive director of Glass Arts Indiana, located inside the Circle City Industrial Complex.
Formerly known as Indiana Glass Arts Alliance, the organization has been in existence as a non-profit for over 10 years with a goal of teaching the public and supporting all types of art glass.
We’re turning up the heat on this trip In Your Neighborhood.
“This building in and of itself is an art community in the near east side area,” said Glass Arts Indiana Executive Director Lisa Pelo.
Since moving Glass Arts Indiana to the Circle City Industrial Complex to open their own studio last August, Pelo and her fellow instructors have been teaching the art of glass work via small group classes and private lessons.
And there’s a lot to learn.
For instance, there are sub-categories of cold, warm and hot glass.
“Cold is glass sculptures… laminating, building glass sculptures. Warm is called fusing or slumping.. textural. That type of work,” she noted. “Then we have hot workers, which is what you see in our hot shop out here. We also call hot workers ‘flame workers [or] torch workers.’ [They are] the ones that sit and work and create in front of a flame.”
During our visit, we focused on hot glass work.
“We are working with furnace glass that’s just below 2100 degrees Fahrenheit,” she explained. “Your working temperature is 500-600 degrees coming down. Not very often are you over 2100 degrees Fahrenheit in our furnace glass. But we consider ice cold 1000 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Working with this kind of heat requires a bit of bravery.
“We entertain ourselves by opening the furnace door and people go ‘Woah!’ and we chuckle and say ‘Get back up here!” Pelo joked. “We have to remind people sometimes to breathe… to relax and find your Zen because it’s scary when you first step up to that much temperature. “
You start by grabbing your safety glasses and an instructor helps you through each step — making it a little less intimidating.
The process always starts the same way.
“Pick up some glass on the end of your working tool [such as] a pipe or a punty rod, shape it and manipulate it. Maybe put some air into it,” she said. “Beginners… we call beginners up through five years— you’re [considered] a beginner…You learn to put air into it and manipulate the form and have hot and cold areas for defining form.”
Through the process, instructors are gauging each student’s comfort level and assisting as needed.
“I’ll probably reach in, grab your hand and rock this thing out with you. Because you’re thinking too much and it becomes reflexive,” she explained. “So if you’re thinking through my directions, I have to either say them, ‘Quick, fast, quick, now, now, now,’ or I just reach in and say, ‘You have to be going this fast.’ Or ‘You have to go slower.”
The pros make the color application color application process look easy but Pelo says it takes years and years of practice.
“You just have to say, ‘I want to learn how to do that’ and then build the skillset to achieve it. We are continuously learning techniques and new color applications— even at our skillset,” she added.
First timers typically start with something simple like a paperweight or a flower.
“People just say, ‘Man I can’t believe the hand-eye coordination it takes to create something while the glass is cooling exponentially,” she noted. “It’s going down really fast in temperature and we’re going, ‘Now’s the time. You’ve got to do it now or we start again.”
Over in the gallery, you can shop some magnificent pieces from Pelo and her fellow artists or even hire them for custom commission work.
“We have people order high-ball glasses and drinking mugs and I’m getting ready to do a set of honey containers for a startup honey distributor and fun things like that,” she said.
You can support Glass Arts Indiana and the other artists and creators at the Circle City Industrial Complex by stopping by for their “First Friday” events from 6-9 p.m. on the first Friday of each month.
“All the studios that want to participate open their doors and have their artwork for you to show and tell the public about,” Pelo explained. “You’re able to purchase off the floor or commission work. A lot of the artists in here also do commission work.”
Four Things You Need to Know About Glass Arts Indiana:
- Formerly known as Indiana Glass Arts Alliance, Glass Arts Indiana been in existence as a non-profit for over 10 years. Last August, they decided to take the leap and open their own studio in Suite C25 at the Circle City Industrial Complex. “We wanted to come in in April but then, you know, life closed down,” explained Executive Director Lisa Pelo.
- They offer group classes and private or couples lessons. “Our biggest group of beginners comes in through Eventbrite. I post to Eventbrite and they roll to our website… Once people come in and know they want to try it again, they just call us directly on the phone and book their own session,” Pelo explained. “We [also] offer the long-term 6 week classes that meet once a week in the evening.”
- Pelo says she’s seen more people come out and show interest in learning about glass art, whether it’s just looking for a new creative outlet, marking it off their bucket list, or learning more about the art form in order to be a more educated collector. She says interest in their classes has also gone up as the COVID-19 vaccine rolled out. Still, she says they continue to be extra cautious when it comes to safety and social distancing as much as possible in the studio.
- You can support Glass Arts Indiana and the other artists and creators at the Circle City Industrial Complex by stopping by for “First Fridays” each month from 6-9 p.m. You can also visit Lisa at her private studio and gallery called Hot Blown Glass in Clayton, Indiana.
While visiting the Circle City Industrial Complex, check out these other popular attractions: