By Cherise Madigan
Stepping through the doors of Manchester Hot Glass, there’s no shortage of stimuli for the senses. Everything from the light gleaming off the vibrant glass artwork, the radiating heat as you move closer to the studio and, most prominently, the boisterous voice of glass artist Andrew Weil draws you into the action — even if you’ve only come to browse.
Over the years, the shop has become a fixture off Manchester’s beaten path. Just past the hustle and bustle of Depot Street you’ll find Weil leading artists and amateurs through an experience as unique as his designs, facilitating a hands-on glass-blowing experience that’s one of a kind.
“Working with glass is the great equalizer,” he explained. “I don’t care how great of an artist you are — if you’ve never worked with glass, you’ve never worked with glass.”
Weil is something of an expert on the subject, having worked with glass since his teenage years and eventually earning a bachelor’s in fine arts in the subject from Franklin Pierce College. He then entered the world of production art glass and spent time honing his craft in Sweden before opening the doors of Manchester Hot Glass in summer 2000.
“Right from the start I learned a great lesson in humility,” Weil writes on his website. “Glass is an amazing material — it can be hot and malleable and cold and delicate all at the same time. There is nothing like it. The surprises it can produce are equally as unique. Needless to say, it is a very humbling experience to watch as your work hits the floor, or cracks in the process of being made.”
Working with private groups of all varieties, the artist and educator initially offered the classes out of necessity during the Great Recession. With a degree in art education, and a passion for working with the material, it just made sense.
Today, Weil welcomes everyone from tourists to celebrity students into his studio.
“It keeps me in the studio, which is, honestly, where I want to be,” he said. “Whether I’m making stuff or helping people make stuff, I really find it gratifying.”
As a teacher, Weil is unapologetically himself, admitting that he becomes “a little animated in the studio” to make sure that everyone is comfortable. There’s an inherent risk to any class that encourages beginners to mold molten materials, but Weil leads with hard-earned wisdom, humor and a hint of sarcasm to keep his students at ease.
“Joking around helps take your mind off of the fact that you’re playing with molten lava,” Weil said, laughing. “Not everyone gets the chance to do that.”
But it’s not just the students who benefit. Though Weil began by producing a plethora of inexpensive items to pay the bills, the income from his classes allows him to focus on making higher-end artwork in his own time. Now, Weil is able to pursue his craft in a way that’s equally challenging and gratifying, producing higher-end pieces for sale and commission.
“My own work has continued to evolve, and I’m continually improving and working on different techniques,” he said. “I think in a lot of ways, teaching has helped me grow as an artist.”
While instructing his students, Weil is required to work backward, relying on his left hand though his right is dominant. The color combinations chosen by students often prove inspiring as well, he says, as do the questions raised by beginners.
“I’ve helped a lot of people experiment and have been able to learn with them, which is really cool,” Weil said. “We had an artist come in once who wanted to pour glass over antique typewriters, and we ended up making this unique art installation, which was really fun.”
Though it’s unlikely you’ll walk away a great glass artist, you will take home the object that you create, as well as a new appreciation for the glass around you. After working with the material so closely, Weil says, you’ll never look at a wine glass the same way again.
“To be able to help other people bring their ideas to fruition is really cool,” he said. “I really enjoy getting to know people and seeing them come out of their shells and make amazing things. It’s been a lot of fun.”•
Try it yourself…
Manchester Hot Glass
79 Elm St., Manchester Center, Vt.
Offered Thursday through Sunday. Reservations requested, group classes always welcome.
$50 per person, per paperweight.
Pick out the glass colors; bend, pull, stretch and mash up molten glass, then shape it to make your own one-of-a-kind glass paperweight. Plan for a minimum of 15 minutes per person, per paperweight.
$100 per person, per blown object.
You pick the glass colors, handle the molten glass, then blow and shape it to make your own one-of-a-kind pint glass, bowl or vase. Plan for a minimum of 30 minutes per person, per blown object.
$350 for two people and twp instructors for two hours.
You will average about four to five glass pieces per person. Some pieces you might make include: paperweights, drinking glass and a bowl or vase. Reservations required.
Cherise Madigan is a native Vermonter and frequent contributor to the Manchester Journal and Bennington Banner.