Playing with fire: ISU club teaches students glass blowing


Jacob Barker

Glassware created by students in the Gaffer’s Guild is on display in the Student Innovation Center.

Iowa State’s Student Innovation Center (SIC) houses a special club dedicated to blowing and modeling glass into unique forms and designs.

The Iowa State Gaffer’s Guild is a glass-blowing club open to any students who would like to try their hand at contorting glass into a variety of shapes and structures.

The club holds meetings on a case-by-case basis twice a semester. However, executive meetings happen more frequently, and individuals often go into the studio independently outside the group meetings.

The club also offers educational sessions to teach students how to begin.

“We recommend students to take a six-week introductory course that covers basic safety,” said Sarah Church, a sophomore studying integrated studio arts. “Once you finish, you have access to the studio and come in anytime to work on a project.”

The Gaffer’s Guild is a student-led organization, but it is also open to staff and community members. The general public can come in any time to learn about glass blowing before deciding to join the club.

“I would definitely recommend for students to come in anytime and give our studio a look before joining,” Church said. “We are always looking for new members and anyone is welcome to join.”

The glass-blowing studio the club currently uses is located on the first floor of the SIC and is open all week for tours and meetings. It contains lots of new equipment because the studio became available in the fall of 2020 when the SIC opened its doors for the first time.

The glass blowing studio located on the first floor of the Student Innovation Center. (Jacob Barker)

“We have a desktop monitor, which comes in handy really quickly because a lot of people want to look for different sources of information,” Church said. “Our studio time mostly consists of watching professionals and then applying what we learn to our crafting.”

Glass blowing can lead to injury if materials are mishandled, so the studio also has many safety items designed to handle molten materials and other hazards.

“It’s important for people to know about this because some of the stuff we handle is dangerous,” Church said. “We have gloves, specialized glasses and even aprons for students to wear.”

Before creating a piece, students often sketch their design out to look for visible flaws.

“A lot of the time before we start, members pay attention to different aspects of inspiration for what they want to design,” Church said.

When the initial concept is created, students can begin working. Part of this process involves heating glass materials with the studio’s furnace, which sits at 1190 degrees Celsius.

A variety of designs are made in the studio each day. These items are then set aside in the workshop to cool down before they are displayed.

“We make a lot of ornaments, cups and small vases, and several of our members are making larger pieces,” Church said.

Some pieces go into the club’s permanent collection, but many students enjoy taking their works home to friends and family. Many of the pieces are also left to be sold at the Art Mart or the Innovate 1858 store.

“A bulk of our funds come from Art Mart sales at the Memorial Union twice a year, which helps supply our equipment and glass for the rest of the year,” Church said.

Additional information on the Gaffer’s Guild can be found on the Student Innovation Center website.