Lesson Learned (September 24)

Annealing Glass and Life: Reflecting on 9/11 Part 2

Annealing: heat (metal or glass) and allow it to cool slowly, in order to remove internal stresses and toughen it.

Here is a Lesson Learned in three parts. This week I present part two. This is about “annealing,” by Allia Shaver, student journalist and Greenbrier Almond, MD, community columnist, who jointly interviewed Ron Hinkle on August 2 and 4, 2022. Art mimics Life.

Greenbrier: Ron, you have enjoyed a creative career that has taken you to the zenith of your profession.

Ron: I am pleased to reminisce about the making of a blown glass artist. I have announced my retirement. My hope in telling about my life is to inspire others to follow their dreams.

Allia: What was the first piece of glasswork you ever made?

Ron: Well, that’s interesting. Whenever I was working at Louie Glass, I saw people making the little swans out of glass and I actually made a little swan ashtray. I don’t know what happened to it or where it went, but I do remember that piece. It was one of the better memories of my past work in glass because it was something that was, “Say! I can do something special!” You know? So that was it, a little swan ashtray about three inches long.

Allia: That sounds very special. Did you have a mentor who helped you perfect your skills?

Ron: I did. There was a gentleman that I worked with who I admired greatly. He mentored me and gave me opportunities to help him. His name was Jennings Bonnell. I still have some of his paperweights. He had been a glass worker that had his own glass business at one time, Big Pine Key Glassworks I think was the name of it. And also, he was a foreman at Pilgrim Glass one time and he worked at Louie Glass, but he also worked at several other places. I had the privilege of knowing and being encouraged by Jennings Bonnell.

Allia: A special mentor.

Ron: Yes.

Allia: I had a special teacher, but she passed from cancer.

Ron: Oh, that is so sad, I understand.

Allia: Did you go to a special school to learn how to create glass?

Ron: That is interesting. I signed up for what we used to call trade school. The year I signed up to learn schooling for glassblowing, I was a sophomore in high school. I signed up for it and came to school the next fall and they discontinued that program. They used to bus students from Buckhannon to Weston for that training and they canceled that. The following summer is when I got a part-time summer job at Louie Glass. I worked there, made some money, loved the people I worked with and I continued onward after graduation. After graduating high school, I went there and got a job and stayed for 20 years. I actually started working at Louie Glass when I was 16 years old and I worked there until I was about, oh my goodness let’s see, about 40 years old. So, there was 20 years I spent at Louie Glass.

Greenbrier: Wow.

Ron: And I became pretty good at most of the jobs there. But I learned to make some pieces that were decorative with color. I melted color glass with clear glass together.

Greenbrier: Strawberries, little paperweights...

Ron: Little paperweights, yes and then I learned to make birds, Christmas ornaments and different things and I learned that I could sell these things. So, I came up with the idea to build my own studio. It took me four years to build my own studio.

Greenbrier: This is it?

Ron: This is it! And actually, it took skidding logs out the woods with the farm tractor that I traded logs for lumber to get it sawed to build the second story. But anyway, it all worked out and 20 years ago, or 30 years ago, I started my own business and I’ve never looked back. And it’s been a roller coaster of emotion and education.

Greenbrier: (laughing) Okay!

Ron: But anyway, we melt our glass from materials here. Soda lime, soda ash I should say, lime and sand and those are the main ingredients that I melt at 2400 degrees in that big silver furnace over there.

Greenbrier: Did you drill a gas well, too?

Ron: I considered it, but it never happened. The price of propane was pretty reasonable from time to time. It’s hotter than natural gas and they give me a big discount when I buy a whole truckload at a time.

Greenbrier: Well, that works.

Ron: Yes, that works. So, in this furnace over here, the level of the glass is way down there because I am getting ready to go on vacation. I’m going to actually turn the furnace off for about a month while I’m gone and then start it back up. This usually runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year long. If you turn it off and on too many times, the liner begins to break and crumble and that would be a big disaster. Plus, if I turn it off, it takes 2-3 days to cool down and a week to heat it back up. So, there are no days off, you either let it run or shut it down for a longer period of time. In there is a pool of molten glass. I dip it out of the furnace with a pipe so that it is like dipping honey up. I preheat the pipe so that the glass will stick to it and then we will make a piece of glass. So that is clear glass in there, then we dip the colors and designs in chips of colored glass. 

For this week the Lesson Learned is the stretching out of a technical term used in glass blowing annealing: heat (metal or glass) and allow it to cool slowly, in order to remove internal stresses and toughen it.

The making of a world-class glass artist has many fits and starts. Perhaps the Upshur County Schools let a 16-year-old sophomore down. However, Ron Hinkle proved to be an overcomer. Stress and heat just toughened him.  

Follow us next week for the grand finale of Ron Hinkle’s interview at an important moment in time as he announces his retirement.


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