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Glass-blower Michael Hall ’97
In a corner of international glass sculptor Nikolas Weinstein’s studio in San Francisco, Michael Hall slides a four-foot steel blowpipe into a 2,100-degree Fahrenheit furnace containing molten glass. Turning the rod as one would to spoon honey from a jar, he gathers a four-ounce lump of bright orange glass on the rod’s end.
In the 30 or so seconds before the glass cools, he begins to shape it. He rolls the pipe back and forth on a steel bench, manipulating the solidifying form with simple wooden paddles, metal shears, tweezers, and tongs, delivering occasional puffs through the pipe to insert air pockets or bubbles. “You’re working against the heat and gravity,” Hall says. “The movements are pretty fast.”
Hall is the studio’s lead glassblower, or gaffer, and shop manager, involved in handcrafting commissioned works, from the sinuous 255-foot-long glass “fabric” swirling above a Shanghai hotel lobby (an amalgam of thousands of slender, precisely shaped tubes) to the tiny heart once ordered for a dog’s collar. Pieces he has worked on hang in Tokyo, Berlin, Beijing, and major U.S. cities, including San Francisco, New York, and Boston (where a chandelier hangs in the lobby of the Fairmont Battery Wharf hotel).
Chandeliers are a specialty of the studio, and Hall is involved in producing about six a year, stretching, bending, reheating, and coloring the distinctive elements. Typically three to five feet long and half as wide, the chandeliers take four weeks to complete and can sell for upwards of $70,000. Composed of dozens of glass parts suspended by thin cables, they appear to float like clouds.
From an early age, Hall liked to visit the factory of glassblower Simon Pearce near his family’s summer home in Quechee, Vermont. “It was hot, it [had] danger. It was perfect for a seven-year-old,” he recalls. After graduating from Boston College with a major in art history, he became an apprentice at Simon Pearce, making vases and stemware. In 2000, he followed his girlfriend (now wife) to California, and took a job at the Zellique art glass studio as a starter—”the bottom rung,” he says—loading the furnace and setting up equipment. He joined the Weinstein Studio in that same role in 2002, learning the varied facets of the business, from the art of budget conversations with clients to the craft of “fold[ing] newspaper for use as a tool.”
Brian Eule is a California-based writer.