Watch CBS News

More Than Just Playing With Fire: Visiting The Artists At UrbanGlass In Brooklyn

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - To be an artist at UrbanGlass, you can't be afraid of a little danger.

"There is a certain sort of daredevil mentality. There has to be a comfort with hot things," said director of development Rachel Feinberg.

"These people are so comfortable with the material that they're quite intimate with it. They get quite close to the very hot material. It can be a little surprising," she said.

WEB EXTRA: Putting His Stamp On NYC: Meet John Casey Of Casey Rubber Stamps

UrbanGlass is the largest non-profit artist glass studio in the United States.

"UrbanGlass was founded in 1977 in Lower Manhattan. We moved into this building 25 years ago, so we've been doing this for a while," Feinberg said.

The facility includes a retail space showcasing artists' works and a designated area for rotating art exhibitions.

"We have workspace for professional artists, but we also have a huge variety of classes for students of all ages and skill levels. We start with students as young as nine," she said.

The 17,000-square-foot studio space welcomes artists working with glass, gases, and very high temperatures.

Glass becomes malleable when melted in a heated metal drum.

Furnace at UrbanGlass (credit: CBS2)
Furnace at UrbanGlass (credit: CBS2)

"It's about 2,000°F in the furnace," she said. "It comes out of the furnace the consistency of honey."

Artists at UrbanGlass create everything from jewelry to glowing sculptures.

WEB EXTRA: Popular Jewelry: Where Hip-Hop Icons Shop For Gold

"Josh Raiffe is a glassblower working on a series of solid sculptures that he adds neon to, which is a fairly nontraditional approach to neon," Feinberg said.

Susan Schulman co-owns Mazel Tov Glass, a company that creates hand-blown glass to be stepped on in the Jewish wedding ritual. The shards are returned to the company to be repurposed—they are incorporated into a new vase for the couple to commemorate the ceremony.

Roxann Slate, glass artist and jewelry fabricator, works at UrbanGlass five days per week.

Jewelry by Roxann Slate (credit: CBS2)
Jewelry by Roxann Slate (credit: CBS2)

"Both my parents are glass artists, so I've been around glass for a long time," she said. "I'm 31, so we're going on like 21 years of melting things."

WEB EXTRA: A Timeless Passion: 89-Year-Old Repairs Antique Clocks On Long Island

Glassblowing is both an art and a science.

Glass Artist Ashley Goodwyn (credit: CBS2)
Glass Artist Ashley Goodwyn (credit: CBS2)

"A lot of the chemistry and science you learn just through practice and through experimenting," Raiffe said.

His projects depend on tungsten, a metal with special properties.

"Its melting point is in the 6,000°s, so you can get it really, really hot and drive it through glass, whereas with most metals, you can't do that," he said.

WEB EXTRA: Retro Relics And Mysteries Abound At Mother Of Junk

The art form is not for everyone.

"You have to get your hands dirty. You have to be okay with sweating a lot," Raiffe said.

But those drawn to it become part of a close-knit group.

Glass Artists Shuhei Fujii and Joshua Raiffe (credit: CBS2)
Glass Artists Shuhei Fujii and Joshua Raiffe (credit: CBS2)

"The glass community is really tight," Raiffe said. "And it's because of the nature of the activity. We all work in teams, and we become friends."

Glassblowers can connect over shared passion and a shared lifestyle.

"We're all in the same boat. We all have to pay so much rent," Slate said.

647 Fulton Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217
(718) 625-3685

What's something few people know about but everybody should? Whatever it is, Elle McLogan is tracking it down on The Dig. Join her hunt for treasures hidden across our area. Follow Elle on Twitter and Instagram.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.