Ocala-based artist Robert Mickelsen used a torch to transform thin glass tubes into a human hand. Scroll through this slideshow to see how it came together, and see some other pieces on display at free exhibits for the public. Hundreds of glass artists and enthusiasts from around the world are in St. Petersburg this weekend for the 2019 Glass Art Society conference. The conference kicked off Thursday and is a way for artists to connect and learn from one another at various glass demonstrations around the city.
Dozens gathered at Zen Glass Studio to watch Ocala-based artist Robert Mickelsen perform a technique known as flameworking.
“Flameworking is a kind of glass-blowing where I work with rods and tubes of glass and a torch instead of out of a furnace,” he explained.
Mickelson has been creating glass art since 1974 and is receiving a lifetime membership award at the conference.
“It’s a beautiful, challenging medium,” he said. “It’s held my attention now for all these years and I still get up every day and it’s all I want to do.”
While there were a few amateurs in the audience, most attendees knew a thing or two about glass.
People posed questions like, “What brand of torch are you using?” And, “What millimeter rods are you working with?” Mickelsen answered everything as he transformed thin glass tubes into a human hand.
Executive Director of the Chihuly Collection Andrew Schlaugh said he worked with officials at the Imagine Museum and other local glass institutions to get St. Petersburg selected as this year’s host city.
“There was a significant growth and interest in glass art in this neck of the woods, so we really felt that there was so much happening here in what we’re calling the ‘Glass Coast,’ we wanted GAS (Glass Art Society) to see for themselves,” he said.
GAS Executive Director Brandi Clark said every host city brings its own sort of flair, and said the popularity of flameworking in this region makes it stand out.
She said she was amazed to see the quality of glasswork being created in Tampa Bay, especially considering the hot and humid weather.
“I’m just repeatedly impressed by the number of glass artists that are here and I keep hearing about glass artists that are starting to work here that haven’t in the past,” she said.
Andrew Schlaugh said he hopes as artists share with one another they also learn about the local community.
“The same way people are going to be going to all these lectures, you’re going to see all these artists going around Tampa Bay being like, “Oh wow, there’s so much to do here in this medium,” he said.
Florida residents can buy day passes to the conference for $150.
But there are also free exhibits at the Chihuly Collection and Morean Arts Center. They display artwork by some GAS members as well as glass students.
Artwork ranges from intricately-carved pieces to video installations and performance art.
“There are artists all over the world that have figured out how to do amazing things with glass,” she said. “So it isn’t just glass-blowing vessels, it isn’t just fusing platters, there are so many elements to glass.”
One event organizers are recommending the public attend is a “gallery hop” Friday night. In addition to the official GAS exhibits, visitors can hop between other art institutions in St. Petersburg like Florida CraftArt downtown, which are also putting on glass displays.
“I think that will be a really fun and engaging way for our local community to see what all is possible in the glass world,” said Andrew Schlaugh.
The Chihuly Collection and the Imagine Museum are also offering various ticketed events for museum members and the public.
For example, admission to the Chihuly Friday night will give visitors a chance to see the MIT Glass Band. Musicians from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created instruments out of glass and will perform in front of a live audience.
The conference runs until March 30.