Art is the key to vibrant, thriving communities. It offers new perspectives on what we see, feel, and the way we live. Considered by many as a tool for transformation, art becomes a sanctuary for the soul that transcends the day to day stresses of life. Every piece of art tells a personal story that leads us to the inner corridors of our minds and character—providing a reflection of our cultures and accentuating the natural beauty in our world.
Nurturing creativity unleashes the power of change. Like science, these changes show us new ways to improve our lives. Art with intention merges us in connective homeostasis as it unveils the endless creative possibilities of the melting point.
Glassblowing in the U.S. began mesmerizing us in the 1960s as artists around the country started experimenting with different techniques, colors and forms. For founder and artist Erin McMillen, creating The Melting Point was a labor of love. Erin spent seven years researching and designing a business plan that nurtures glass artists. She envisioned a place to foster the artist’s passions without the word “starving” and “artist” in the equation. This transformative art space would create beautiful glassworks in Sedona while bringing its community together for education and enrichment.
The cultural revolutions of humanity are often defined by their technologies—the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, and for some time now, the Glass Age. Our evolution with glass has exploded with new technologies and art forms. From storage vessels, mirrors, windows, crystals, and light bulbs, to eyeglasses, microscopes, and fiber optics, glass has been changing our world since 3500 BC.
Science and art are complementary. Innovations in glass are primarily responsible for the progress we see in our world today. Microscopes and telescopes have provided scientific information to birth everything we have. And in the 1990s, breakthroughs in the semiconductor field changed the landscape of telecommunications and computer networking forever.
At 1300-1600 degrees, glass becomes soft and malleable—flowing with the grace of a dancer, melting to a honey-like consistency, then returning to solid. Its fluid, dynamic, and often unforgiving nature is mysteriously seductive, as it can be shaped into anything. Like water and sunsets, it’s no wonder glass artists refer to this medium as magic.
Glassblower Austin Littenberg has an engineering and science background. “I’ve always been attracted to pyro,” Austin confessed. “I used to burn things as a kid. Working with hot glass and fire has taught me how to use fire responsibly.
“Patience,” he continued, “is the hardest thing to learn because there’s so much beyond your control. There are subtractive and additive elements to the process, and sometimes they occur simultaneously. The speed of form provides instant gratification, and it’s never boring.”
Watching Austin torch a glass rod to create colored hearts on glass straws, he talked about following the rules of glass. “Good melts, smooth connections; no acute or sharp angles, as [the] glass can break violently when subjected to the shock of thermal stress. Different glass does different things depending on the way it’s treated,” he explained. “You have to accept that glass is glass.”
Listening to him, I found the rules of glass to be an excellent metaphor for the human experience and fragility of our world.
The Melting Point in West Sedona harvests an array of work from talented local artists Jordan Ford, Austin Littenberg, Katie Swackhamer, and Tabytha Hyer. They, too, run the enterprise. The gallery also showcases the work of national and international glass artists like Japan’s Akihiro Okama, Haneka Ohashi, Etsuko Inazawa, and South Africa’s Astrid Riedel. All visiting artists offer classes to the public while in residence. Ford and Littenberg add to the festivities by preparing one of the evening meals—a massive stir-fry presented on a large slab of molten glass and served with a smidge of their comedic flare.
“Artists that do well have a command of their concepts and materials. They don’t just let the glass tell them what to do,” said Geologist, glassblower, and General Manager of The Melting Point, Jordan Ford. “What it’s taught me most is an ability to adapt to any situation.”
For working on small projects, and a Hot Shop studio for glassblowing, a state-of-the-art torch facility bridges the gallery. These workspaces provide a marrying of concepts from beads, jewelry, and tiny sculptures like butterflies, to large glassware, vases, lighting, cactus, flowers, and other designs.
It’s essential to start any project with a plan and intention. At a certain scale of complexity, there is a need for assistance and collaboration.
Operations for more substantial pieces are often drawn on the floor in the Hot Shop studio as the team solicits ideas from one another.
The Melting Point offers visitors 3-hour introductory classes in the Torch Studio that focus on bead making, Borosilicate pendants, and sculpture. For those who want the full experience, the Blow-Your-Own glass workshops provide the materials, guidance, and tools to create a range of items in the Hot Shop. Classes range from $80 to $200 per person; everyone leaves entertained and delighted by their first experience in glassblowing. Students and traveling artists may also rent time in either studio.
“Similar to Sedona’s red-orange Cathedral Rock, glass art serves as a record of both creation and material breakdown,” Jordan stated.
Watching these artists patiently apply their passion for creating glass art was an opportunity to witness the birth of a rising phoenix. When asked to recall his favorite creation, Jordan opened his phone to a photo of his two sons and said, “These are my favorites.” ES