FIA’s facilities expose UM-Flint students to the wonders of glassworking

Grand Blanc resident and UM-Flint student Josie Anderson, left, learns techniques for making art glass with FIA glass programs manager Brent Swanson. Courtesy photo

Grand Blanc resident and UM-Flint student Josie Anderson, left, learns techniques for making art glass with FIA glass programs manager Brent Swanson. Courtesy photo

FLINT — Josie Anderson first learned about glass making by attending a free demonstration in the Flint Institute of Arts Glass Studios last summer.

Anderson, a University of Michigan- Flint sophomore from Grand Blanc studying creative writing and communications, was hooked. She attended more demonstrations and, when she learned there was a course at UM-Flint that allowed students to explore all the FIA’s glassmaking spaces, she registered.

“When I heard there was a glass class at UM-Flint, I really wanted to try it out,” Anderson said. “I’d been coming here over the summer just to practice, and now that I’m in the class, I’m learning a lot more. It’s a really nice facility, so it’s great to have the opportunity to work here. It’s not related to my major necessarily, but it’s a great way to relax and have fun, so I’ve enjoyed it.”

The Survey of Glassmaking course is taught by Cristen Velliky, associate professor of art. Velliky said she’s always loved glassworking and was excited when she learned the FIA was expanding its glass demonstration and teaching spaces in 2018. Facilities include a classroom and hot shop with stadium-style seating, allowing visitors to watch live demonstrations of various processes.

There are also smaller studios and spaces that allow students to do sculpting, beadwork, and more.

“When I heard the FIA was building this facility, I got on board ASAP,” Velliky said. “I started teaching a course here a couple of years ago, and this is the first year that we’ve tried to move around to every facility in the glassworking studio.”

Students in her class get exposure to several skills throughout the semester, including kiln fusing, stained glass, sand casting, glass blowing, slumped glass, and flameworking. They work alongside FIA instructors and learn the importance of working together in the glass making process.

“They’re learning a lot of teamwork, which is really important in glassworking,” Velliky said. “They’re also creating design projects, they’re working with cold glass, slumped glass, cast glass. Many of these students are sculpture majors, and glass is a very important material to learn to work with.”

The partnership with UM-Flint provides a great opportunity for students to use a space they otherwise wouldn’t have access to as the university doesn’t have its own glass studio on campus. It also provides students with an opportunity to see what the FIA has to offer to potentially take more classes or attend events here on their own.

“To work and learn in such an extraordinary studio, and then also be able to walk down the hall and visit galleries full of important objects made using the same techniques being taught in class is a rare and extremely exciting opportunity for any art student,” said Donovan Entrekin, director of the art school at the FIA.

“By providing UM-Flint’s art programs with access to the FIA’s excellent facilities and professional glass artists, we are establishing Flint as a cultural campus and reaffirming the FIA’s role as an essential community resource. We also hope to introduce to college students the many other opportunities the FIA provides and to inspire life-long engagement with the arts and our great city.”

For Anderson, she had a similar experience. Her interest in glass actually started first with an interest in ceramics. The chance to apply some of the processes in ceramics to a totally different material sparked her desire to learn more about glass.

“I really liked clay and ceramics, being able to shape things and the tiny details,” she said. “So, seeing that done in glass was really cool. It’s similar but also completely different at the same time. I did a bead making sampler and the amount of detail and focus, I was worried it might be too much, but being able to put it all in there and add the details was really fun. I made beads that look like little planets and have a necklace I wear them on because they’re cute, fun and simple. It was a great experience.”

Anderson was aware of the FIA, growing up nearby, and said her brother had taken classes. She said she was shy, though, and it took her a while to get the courage to try it out. Now, she highly recommends it to others who are interested in art.

“I would definitely recommend trying, the hardest thing is just starting,” Anderson said. “I was terrified at first, especially with the hot glass class. The first one I did, I didn’t even want to touch anything — am I gonna get burned? Am I gonna injure myself? Not at all, the instructors are great, they walk you through everything to make sure you do it safely, and it’s really enjoyable to just focus on having fun and getting to make a piece of art. Glass is awesome.”

Along with building their skills in an immersive and hands-on environment, Velliky also likes unlocking passion in her students through her course and the environment at the FIA.

“I think they’re overwhelmed with the potential of what could happen and what they can do here,” Velliky said. “I feel so spoiled. This is an amazing, beautiful facility, and everyone I’ve come across here has been so helpful. I really want to expose this place to more students and more community members to take advantage of.”