After the street lamps flicker on at the corner of Sixth and Myrtle streets and nearby businesses close up shop, you'll find a handful of folks hunched over tables inside Boise Art Glass, burning the midnight oil. Well, more accurately, they're burning the midnight torch. Wearing special bug-eyed goggles, they ease colored glass rods and tubes into bright flames, rotating the pieces like they're roasting glass marshmallows. Originally known as lampworking because oil lamps were used to heat the glass, this particular practice is now commonly called flameworking or torchworking.
"One of the reasons we opened a torchworking facility is because there aren't too many in the United States," said Filip Vogelpohl, Boise Art Glass owner.
A refugee from the Czech Republic, Vogelpohl opened Boise Art Glass in 2005. In addition to the glass-work he creates in the space--swirly jewelry, curvy vases and giant, sea creature-ish chandeliers-- Vogelpohl also hosts classes and rents out workspace to other local glass artists. And while all this activity keeps Boise Art Glass bustling day and night, Vogelpohl decided he wanted to further expand the shop's offerings. Recently, he acquired a soft glass furnace--a tool that will open new doors for local glass-workers.
"For the last three-and-a-half years, we've been strictly doing torchwork, so we melt the glass on a torch, which means you take a hard piece of glass--a rod or a tube--and you melt it. Then, once it's molten in the flame, we blow it if it's a tube or we shape it if it's a rod," said Vogelpohl. "With the furnace, there's a crucible inside of it ... and it's going to be filled with molten glass, so you take a pipe and bring out a blob of molten glass."
Vogelpohl's new furnace, a small, insulated unit that rests unassumingly in the front corner of the shop, will allow for the use of softer glasses and the creation of much larger pieces. According to Vogelpohl, there's only one other place in Boise that has a glass furnace, and it's the private home of local artist Lisa Tate.
"Her studio is the only furnace place in town, until this one," said Vogelpohl. "But it's more private; it's at her house. So not anyone off the street can just walk in ... It's definitely going to change, as far as me being able to offer classes. It's going to relieve a lot of stress from Lisa."
On First Thursday, Dec. 3, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., anyone off the street can saunter in to Boise Art Glass and check out both furnace and torch demonstrations. In addition to the array of glass pieces for sale in the gallery--including art from 12 local and three out-of-state artists--Vogelpohl will also have an assortment of inexpensive hand-blown glass Christmas ornaments.
"Typically, First Thursday isn't really a big shopping night ... But the Christmas one has always been when people come in and really support the studio and do their Christmas shopping," said Vogelpohl.
But shopping and glass demonstrations aren't the only draw to Sixth and Myrtle on First Thursday. Adjoining neighbors Classic Design Studio and Rocket Neon are also keeping their lights on late for a collaborative holiday party, featuring neon demonstrations, live jazz, free wine and beer and a set of giant human teeth.
"I'll have the neon going, and I've got a lot of new fused-glass pieces," said Rocket Neon owner Wil Kirkman.
These three businesses, housed in a building they've collectively dubbed Ming Studios, collaborate on more than just their annual holiday party. On a recent weekday afternoon, Kirkman and Noel Weber Jr., son of Classic Design owner Noel Weber, discussed a plaster project briefly before Weber wandered back into the main shop area. There, a small group clustered around a sand blaster while Weber Sr. and daughter Anna gingerly painted signs. The vibe was at once focused and symbiotic.
"It's one of the bigger senses of community that I have," said Weber Jr. "It's nice to be able to work with someone but also be totally independent of them, too. Usually, if we need something, we just ask each other."
Though Boise Art Glass, Rocket Neon and Classic Design don't combine their talents for clients, they do help each other out in small ways every day--offering up bits of technical wisdom and varied perspectives. Besides sharing a space, the three businesses also share a common creative vision.
"We're all sort of inventing what we do as we do it; we're all entrepreneurs, and I don't think any of us has a real background in business development, but we're able to do it intuitively, I guess," said Weber Jr. "I think we're all just creative individuals that don't want to have normal jobs."
With lit torches blazing, furnaces roaring and neon signs humming, First Thursday at Ming Studios promises to be an eye-opening How It's Made for the Boise art community.
"It's all about just getting the community involved in the making of art--raw materials coming to fruition into something really unique. All three of us do a lot of commission-based work," said Vogelpohl. "People come in with a vision, and we make that vision become a reality."