Written by, Emma Giulianti All picture/video credit: Emma Giulianti
Eric Duyette, Glassblower
Somerville’s very own artist, teacher, creator, and innovator
Eric Duyette transforms a single, thin rod of clear glass into a multi-colored teardrop pendant with only a flame and a design tool in under 20 minutes.
The Journey of a True Artist
It seems as though Eric Duyette was always destined to be a glassblower due to his father’s glass company where he made plate and auto glass windows. He was a curious child who learned to cut glass from his father and always wondered what color went into making goblets and paper weights.
One fateful day on the beach, Duyette began his path to glassblowing art. He was walking along the sand with some friends talking about how he wanted to learn about glassblowing, when a young man came up to Duyette and directly asked him if he wanted to blow glass. At first he thought the guy had overheard his conversation and was messing with him… He wasn’t. Shocked and astonished, Duyette accepted the offer and quit his well-paying, successful job as a machinist to blow glass in a sketchy basement with his new mentor. He was 20 at the time and felt he had nothing to lose. Duyette recalls, “with no light or ventilation, this was definitely not a safe environment to blow glass in.” Sounds intriguing, right?
Soon after, they were kicked out of the house so they stole a rowboat, took it out on the water, and eventually found an abandoned sailboat in Falmouth to work in. Unfortunately, this was also not an ideal space due to the constant motion of the boat and no available light at night. The logical thing to do next was to travel cross country to twenty different states and blow glass at a variety of music festivals, right? Well, that’s exactly what the two did. This was only possible because electricity is not needed for such art.
After Duyette’s traveling extravaganza, he worked for a bit at Paramount Crystal in 2003, while hopping around doing live glassblowing demonstrations. He then moved back and forth four times from Massachusetts to California where his family lives. Finally in 2011, Duyette officially moved back home to Massachusetts and taught at the Sharon Arts Centers New Hampshire where he helped build their ventilation system. Ultimately finding stability, Duyette has worked in his Somerville studio since 2011, teaching and selling pipes, goblets, pendants, and marbles to big distribution companies. Additionally, he’s been teaching at MIT for the past 3 months, which has become very rewarding.
Most impressively, Duyette’s successful career was mainly self taught or learned from his mentor. He’s only ever taken one class two years ago under Loren Stump at Corning. In fact, the school paid for him to take the class because they saw such promise in him. It was a one week workshop where they learned glassblowing techniques for fourteen hours a day. Duyette recalls, “this was extremely helpful and I was truly inspired by Loren Stump.” He states that Loren is one of his favorite glassblowers who specializes in Marini, a technique of bundling soft glass together and pulling it into smaller sections. Duyette especially loves Stump’s creation of giant elephants with lions and tigers attacking it!
Duyette begins the process of glass art making by first purchasing raw material from different distributors, mainly Mountain Glass Company or by buying it straight from Glass Alchemy. After much trial and error, Duyette prefers working with borosilicate glass which is a hard glass and actually more difficult to melt than molten hut, which is a commonly used soft glass. In fact, there are over 100 types of soft glass in eluding plate, auto, and pint glass. Additionally, soft glass has a much larger scale of colors to choose from, however, it is more prone to crack than hard glass. A difficulty Duyette finds with borosilicate glass is that it cools very quickly so he really has to keep it hot while he works with it or else it will explode.
Developing his glass blowing skills for the past 15 years and teaching for 6, Duyette is truly perfecting his craft. When teaching, he gives a demo and then light assistance. He believes the students learn best when experiencing glassblowing hands on. Duyette claims the motto, “slow and steady wins the race,” accurately applies to the art of glassblowing. Most importantly, he stresses safety in the classroom. He’s taught over 1,500 people and only 10 have been lightly burned from rushing and not being attentive. He loves how rewarding teaching is but his only complaint is fixing student work after it’s been in the kiln for 12 hours. “Going back and fixing broken work is tedious and frustrating,” Duyette mentions.
There are a few key items you need when glassblowing, which include compressed oxygen, propane, a torch, ventilation, good lighting, glassblowing glasses to see through the bright flame, a kiln, and glass of course! Duyette’s most proud of his pipe he created by hand without additional equipment. It took him 30 hours of work within 3 days to make and it has become his favorite piece!
Recently, Duyette has been focusing on the unique cuts, grinds, and polishes of different geometric shapes. He also would like to incorporate clay work into his glass art by melting glass onto clay, which is very difficult. Furthermore, he enjoys graphic design, painting and brewing homemade beer - all hobbies he may pursue in the future!
“In order to be a successful artist, you must pick something specific that you are good at and love, and continue and expand on that single idea. Passion is what makes art.” - Eric Duyette
I was fortunate enough to watch Duyette create a glass blown pendant and walk me through the process. Here is a video of the beginning of the creation, followed by images of the different stages from the demo.
Glass blown pendant I purchased from Duyette for just $10.