Rebecca Potash has put blood, sweat and tears into hundreds of bowls, glasses and other products over thousands of hours, yet she said she knows she’ll never master the 2,100-year-old craft of glassblowing.
“Anyone who says they’ve mastered it is in their ‘glass teenager’ phase,” she said with a laugh. “No real master would ever say they are done learning, even the most talented glass artists in the most well-known museums.”
On a recent day in a Cambridge workshop, Potash of Duxbury, Mass. and her glass partner Kim Savoie were churning out drinking glasses and centerpiece bowls almost without thinking about it. They worked in tandem from muscle memory to gather molten glass, roll it into shape, add color, blow in air and carefully detach the finished product. The patience and dexterity needed for the ancient art is apparent, and from that process comes a series of delicate, one-of-a-kind products.
“I can’t not blow glass. It’s like a pathological need. On the car ride here we’re talking about it, at the bar we’re talking about it,” Potash said. “I love messing around with different colors and techniques.”
Potash started the uncommon craft when she was just 15 thanks to family friend Page Hazlegrove. She then took classes as a teenager at a studio in Brockton and from there, a passion for the craft, and for science, was born.
For the next 10 years Potash was a glass hobbyist, crafting whenever she could while in school. In that time, she earned her bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctorate in chemistry before taking a job in education at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York.
“I just thought it was cool, I think everyone thinks glassblowing is cool,” she said. “They don’t think it’s something you can actually do, but since I knew Page, it opened up to me. … Whatever money or time I could sink in to glassblowing, which wasn’t a lot, I would.”
At the time, the museum ran a program called Hot Glass at Sea aboard several Celebrity Cruises ships, and Potash applied to blow glass in the studios on the water. Her skills were severely lacking — she said there were “crickets” when she demonstrated in her audition — but the museum took a chance on her education background and clear passion for the craft.
She got the job, and spent several years honing her skills at sea while visiting places like Santarini, Bora Bora and Antarctica. She said she thought she’d spend her time at sea then get back to a career as a chemist, but her “crazy passion” kept her from ever leaving the trade.
“As a 26-year-old, I don’t know how I ever could have afforded to go to those places. It was a dream for me,” Potash said of her work on the ships. “I swore up and down I’d never be an independent artist, because it’s really hard. Everyone always asks when I’m going to use my degree, but I really like what I’m doing.”
Potash met Savoie during her time with Hot Glass at Sea, and the pair now work together out of various glassblowing studios they’re able to rent by the day in the Boston area. The process is complex and dangerous, but also a very social activity and they say they’ve found their place in the “crazy small” glass world.
For the most part, Potash makes drinkware and seasonal home decor. She credits the Wicked Women Makers Market for launching her career on the South Shore, and she said customers have been eager to buy local and support artists from their community.
“I feel, for myself, that people buy into the story of supporting a young Ph.D scientist with a dream,” Potash said. “I find that people don’t just want something but want to help me, which I love. It feels great that people want to support me.”
To make a piece of hand-blown glass is to understand a dozen-step process that incorporates chemistry, physics and endless patience. The molten hot glass — which is 2,100 degrees when it comes out of the furnace — must be constantly turned as to not droop, never get so cool it cracks and handled with delicate precision.
It’s an expensive, excessive and not exactly safe hobby, but Potash says her business, K+ Glass, is where her passion truly lies. In science, potash is the name of potassium-rich salts that were popular in glassmaking from the 10th to late 16th centuries. The chemical notation for potassium is K+.
As of now, Potash and Savoie work several days per week in studios across eastern Massachusetts. The pair say they are looking to open their own glassblowing studio for classes and rentals somewhere in the South Shore area.
Potash’s pieces can be found at Artisans in the Square in Hingham and Local Pottery in Norwell. She will soon open an online shop at kplusglass.com. Savoie’s work is available on Etsy, at artfulhome.com and on uncommongoods.com.
Photos in this post were taken by the wonderfully talented Greg Derr. They were originally published in The Patriot Ledger.