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Smithville High School OH Art Club acquires glassblowing furnace

Aug 25, 2023

The Art Club at Smithville High School has no need to blow its own horn. Its glassblowing artistry speaks for itself.

The high school is one of only five in the country to have acquired its own Mini Dragon Mobile Glassblowing furnace for the purpose of in-house glassblowing, Green Local Schools art teacher Jennifer Winkler said.

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Acquiring the furnace was the culmination of hard work on the part of the students and a seemingly unattainable goal sought by a student who got the ball rolling.

After a trip to watch and participate in glassblowing lessons at the Mansfield Arts Center, Josh Smucker, now a junior, asked Winkler if Smithville High School could pursue glassblowing on its own.

Art Club students were already earning their own money and deciding how to spend their profit by making things and selling them at the school's annual Santa Sale.

Even so, a glass furnace was an expenditure that seemed out of reach.

While Smucker believed students could raise the funds, he didn't necessarily think they could do it before he graduated.

But Winkler was willing to try and began seeking grants.

What she came up with encompassed a $9,000 Robert and Esther Black Family Foundation grant through the Richland County Community Foundation and a $2,752 Beaverson Foundation Community Fund grant through the Wayne County Community Foundation.

Through a Voya Unsung Heroes Award that only 50 teachers in the nation received, the school was able to spend $2,000 on a tabletop glassworking torch and oxygen concentrator to operate it.

"It's a professional-level torch," Winkler said. "It's a pretty neat set-up."

When the Art Club got an affirmative letter from Wayne County Community Foundation, everyone was screaming and shouting for joy, Winkler said.

"We were showing it to everyone," she said.

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For those who doubted the safety of students using the furnace and the blowtorch, Winkler said, "If you trust them to cook, you can trust them to use those tools ― hot things and sharp things."

The people she worked with to purchase the equipment who might have at first thought it was a "little extreme for high school" have come around and been supportive, Winkler said.

The furnace is portable and will be used around the county for demonstrations, Winkler said.

At the high school, Art Club members and sculpture class students will enlarge their repertoire with all the things it can make.

On a personal level, Smucker, who has participated in Art Club since sixth grade, said, "My end goal is a really, really advanced" project called a reticello.

His inspiration for the challenge has been spurred by a show called "Blown Away" on Netflix, which features a group of North American artisans competing in glassblowing to win a residency at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York state.

Reticello is described as a type of blown glass with canes organized in a crisscross pattern to form a fine net.

It's not just Smucker who is pushing to boost artistic skills.

Winkler took additional courses in glassblowing and torch work in Las Vegas and completed a residency at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

One of her long-term goals is training students as apprentices on the glassblowing furnace.

The purchase of the furnace wasn't the first triumph for the Art Club members. They previously raised enough money to purchase a ceramic 3D printer to print objects out of clay. Winkler said Smithville was the first non-STEM public high school in the state to purchase the 3D PotterBot printer.

They were also able to raise funds for a glass kiln, giving Smithville High School the distinction of being the only school in the area able to incorporate its special capabilities in its curriculum.

Theirs was also the first art room in Wayne County to have a laser engraver.

"We've been dreaming big for a long time," Winkler said.

The Art Club, a self-supporting organization free to students in grades 6-12, participates in community projects and has beautified the school with its projects, which include a stained-glass window featuring a smithy, or blacksmith.

They also do shows and exhibits.

Winkler said she hopes to open the Santa Shop, featuring Christmas ornaments, glass flowers and other student-made gifts, to the public this year.

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