Hot glass, cold mountains
February 5, 2008
For artist-engineer Peter Roberts, the appeal of hot glass is about the drama, from the sheer bravery it takes to handle the bright orange 2,000-degree-Fahrenheit molten glass to the team that must work together in a delicate balance, nearly dancing in a choreographed process to create just one piece. "It’s really exciting holding this hot glass on the end of a pipe and it’s dripping on you you have to be moving the whole time," he says. "It really keeps you on your toes."
And Roberts hopes to heighten the stakes of that drama further. After moving to Utah for the 2002 Winter Olympics, he drew up plans to bring a hot glass studio to the crisp air of the snowy mountains. The stark contrast of setting and activity, of hot and cold, he says is the magic that he’s trying to cultivate and one that has ushered in a flood of interest: construction has yet to begin, yet he says more than 70 people have contacted him about the studio already and that six other mountains have courted him about his idea.
According to Roberts, there’s a logical explanation for the enthusiasm: the youthful mid-20s to mid-30s demographic of someone who skis and snowboards is virtually identical to the hot glass art student in terms of age, education and income, he says.
Originally, Roberts set his sights on the historic garage on the Watts Property adjacent to the Town Lift. But after Park City City Council awarded the property to a whiskey distillery, Roberts signed a contract with The Canyons resort in October of last year. The studio will be called The Glory Hole, Inc., apropos of the second furnace used in a glass sculptor’s process, and will be located in a vacant 2,000-square-foot space in the Sundial Lodge between the restaurant Powder Daze and the retail shop KinderSport.
"We spent a lot of time going through this to make sure it would work logistically," says Tim Vetter, vice president of community affairs at The Canyons. "Art is something we certainly embrace here and we liked the idea of fire and ice, and the concept of having an interactive component in the retail core of our resort."
There are only a handful of hot glass studios in the Utah. Sundance Resort’s Glassblowing Studio at the base of Mount Timpanogos, perhaps most notably, allows guests to watch the process of turning recycled glass into wineglasses and dinner plates that are used throughout the resort’s restaurants and cafes. Roberts’ concept for The Glory Hole is larger-scale, however, and more interactive. "We’ll be unique in the state," he insists.
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Unlike other studios in the state, the Glory Hole will offer beginning, intermediate and advanced classes in glass blowing, slump molding, stained glass, neon glass and glass casting seven days a week to groups of 10 to 12 students. Assisting Roberts with instruction, half a dozen teachers will be culled from the prestigious New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, Roberts’ alma mater.
Plans for the studio feature three glory holes and a viewing gallery above a retail shop, with a Web site that will stream the action in the studio live for the Internet.
Like Sundance, Roberts plans to design his studio with the environment in mind. The Glory Hole will be engineered for efficiency and heat reclamation, reducing the energy waste normally associated with glassblowing. A heat exchanger that Roberts describes as a "giant radiator in reverse," will draw the heat off and redirect the warm air to heat the studio, surrounding sidewalks and help to warm the air used for combustion.
In October of last year, the Glory Hole hot glass studio announced it would be opening by February 2008, but the process of getting approval from Summit County to meet ventilation requirements for the studio delayed its debut. Confident that he will soon have permission to start work on his first hot glass resort studio, Roberts has even bigger plans to franchise the concept to more than five ski resorts throughout the country. He says Park City will remain the flagship location.