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My Time as a Pittsburgh Glass Center Technical Apprentice


By artist Jonathan Bolivar

  • Artist Jonathan Bolivar working on a glass piece

My name is Jonathan Bolivar. I am 26-years-old. I am from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

I started blowing glass six years ago at the Tulsa Glassblowing School, learning from Cedric Mitchell. I took a class through Tulsa Community, was accepted as an intern, and was hired there as an employee shortly after. Since then I’ve been working in glass full time for the past five years, spending the last two at a private production studio (Monarch Glass Studio) in Kansas City, Missouri. My background stems from production glass, and has allowed me to gain valuable work experience on the business side of glass blowing.

I was at first intimidated by this position at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, as I would be alongside applicants with Fine Arts degrees, but was fortunate to be selected. I applied for the apprenticeship after visiting in 2018. I was here for two weeks to assist teaching a summer intensive, then stayed the following week as a student. Those two weeks gave me a taste of what the Glass Center is, and allowed me to meet the wonderful community that exists here. When I learned of the apprenticeship program, I applied in hopes of learning to manage and maintain equipment, while improving my glass capabilities. All of this would take place at one of the best facilities in the nation. The results of the position definitely exceeded my expectations.

A typical day can consist of equipment maintenance and repairs, or a short lesson on the equipment’s mechanics to better inform our decision-making. Since we are a workspace for so many glass artists, the “Tech Staff” is tasked with the upkeep of tools and equipment. On top of our ongoing maintenance, we are responsible for ensuring the daily activities in the studio run smoothly. This includes setting up equipment for classes, dividing space to accommodate rentals and events scheduled at the same time, and cleaning the studio to ensure it retains its reputation for being a top-notch facility. This of course has changed a bit with the pandemic, as we have had less public access. We now allow less people in the studio at a time, using only about 25% of the hot shop space, still adding some extra cleaning to ensure a sterile work environment. As things begin to normalize, the Tech Staff will be ready to run the studio at full capacity, adding to the many tasks we accomplish.

So far I have learned a great deal on the inner workings of a large, public access facility. I have learned how to both repair and build certain pieces of equipment using the PGC workshop, which we are also given complete access to. This allows us to give the equipment the love that’s needed, and is valuable information for anyone hoping to run a studio.

I have picked up several new techniques to improve my skills in the hot shop as well. As a Tech Apprentice, we are given a free class every “session.” I was able to learn from artists that came this summer, both as a student and tech. Even if we aren’t enrolled, we are allowed to sit in and take notes during classes, learning from world-class artists for free. This is priceless for any glass artist.

I have been working on small projects of my own to help improve parts of PGC, namely in the metal shop. I have been practicing by building different pieces to both hold and organize equipment we use. PGC has been great for this in that they completely fund any tools and materials I need, and patiently allow me to put all the parts together. We have also been constantly working on our furnaces and kilns, allowing me to better understand how they work, and what needs to be done to ensure they are in optimal condition.

To put it simply, I hope to blow glass for a living. I would of course like to work for myself, and hope to develop a product line that can support my passion. This would allow me to fund making more artistic work, but I would honestly be fine designing and producing glassware for household purposes. I am much more interested in the realm of designing glassware than producing pieces of artwork. The apprenticeship has helped me gain the knowledge I need to confidently approach this dream in a more informed fashion. Not only do I feel I have gained the technical knowledge to maintain and run a glass studio, but have improved my knowledge of the material itself. Working with and around so many artists has allowed me to learn more about working with glass. Each artist here has a similar yet different approach to the material, giving me options to play with in making my own work.

For me in particular, the apprenticeship is one of the greatest opportunities I’ve ever been given. In the art world as a whole, obtaining a degree in Fine Arts is almost a requirement to be respected or even hired, regardless of one’s ability to use the material. While I believe my work experience, and my ability to blow glass with intent, exceeds most BFA graduates, the opportunities for me are few without a degree. I was almost afraid to apply for the apprenticeship, due to Pittsburgh Glass Center’s prestige in the glass world. This position and much of the staff at PGC are respected enough to make more glass options available to me. The opportunity means a great deal. I’ve been able to learn about glass studios and, even more importantly, I’ve been able to have the support of such a great community.

 

Peoples would like to thank artist Jonathan Bolivar for sharing insight into his time as a Technical Apprentice with the Pittsburgh Glass Center.

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