Partners fashion whimsy with tools of ancient craft
By Lucinda Ryan
Correspondent Alameda Times-Star
Saturday, July 4, 1998
FROM THE entryway you can see the dark blue pig-dog, perky-nosed
face vases, six-armed aliens and sumo-wrestler-like horses, lined up among
more practical but still artful items; vases, bowls, dishes and such.
Look to the right and you'll see three furnaces, some that burn
up to 2200 degrees, a large kiln and Richard Ross and Mark Rubnitz transforming
shapeless molten glass into their whimsical inventory. The two glassblowers,
who opened their studio and workshop on Clement Street in April, met three
years ago in a glassblowing class at San Francisco State University, For Rubnitz,
glassblowing was love at first puff. "I love everything about it," said the
former personal trainer and musical performer. "The spontaneity, the urgency,
the limitless possibilities. It's totally inspiring."
It's hot work. Rubnitz opens, a door of one of the four furnaces,
dips a hollow metal blowpipe into a basin filled with clear, molten glass,
and a vivid orange glob glows on the end of the pipe. After the blowpipe is
out of the oven, it must be shaped quickly, while it is still hot enough to
be malleable, and twirled constantly to prevent drops of the syrupy glass
from failing and knocking the piece out of balance before it is even begun.
Shaping processes include rolling the glass on a metal table,
swinging it like a pendulum, or sculpting it with tools. The actual glassblowing
is the least part of the work, with a few light puffs into the lip piece at
the end of the pipe quickly producing the air bubble within the glass so the
artist can resume shaping work.
Some pieces require two people. After coloring and shaping a
vase to his liking, Rubnitz enlisted his assistant, Kevin Grady, to bring
pieces of hot glass from another furnace and apply them to the vase while
Rubnitz blow- torched the spots where the pieces were applied. Ross, who is
a juggler-comedian, said a friend suggested he try glassblowing, surmising
that if Ross could juggle, he already had the eye-hand coordination skills
required for the art.
Like his partner, he was promptly enamored of the craft and
continued taking classes while working as a corporate entertainer. Now he
spends the lion's share of his time at glass-blowing and has scaled his performance
career down to part-time.
"My teacher asked me what I planned to do with glassblowing,"
he said, "and I told her, 'nothing. I've already got a career.'
But I got tired of being on the road all the time. So I talked
to Mark, and we decided to do this. I'm lucky. I've been able
to make a living out of things I like. When I first started juggling,
I loved it, but when it became a regular job, I got to hating
it. "I don't want this to happen with glassblowing. I love it
now, and I want to keep making pieces I like. At the end of the
process, I've got something tangible, something exciting."