Downtown Crowd

Hot Piece of Glass

FEW THINGS SIGNAL the start of Florida’s transition from summer to fall like the sight of pumpkins. They can be seen for sale on the side of the road and as decoration in homes. Their taste can be noticed in everything from homemade pies to frequently purchased lattés. The pumpkin is such an integral part of cooler weather and everyone’s favorite season that it is perhaps no surprise that the more artistic among us have taken to immortalizing its visage with glass and clay. First City Art Center (FCAC) celebrates the pumpkin, the friendlier weather and the artistic process with its annual Glass Pumpkin Patch event, held this year Oct. 10 and 11. At the event, consumers can browse the vast selection of glass and clay pumpkins and purchase a few for themselves or friends. These beautiful, ornate pieces of art range in size from just a few inches in diameter to as much as a foot across.

“This is our eighth event, and it’s our biggest fund-raiser of the year,” said Meredith Doyen, executive director of the non-profit arts organization. “The revenues account for about a quarter of our budget.”

On Oct. 10 from 6 to 8 pm, FCAC will host a preview party where, for just $25, members of the community can have first dibs on the over 2,000 glass pumpkins for sale. The preview party features complimentary hors d’oeuvres, beverages, live glassblowing demonstrations, pottery demos, live music, door prizes and more. On Oct. 11, from 10 am to 2 pm, the event is open to the general public. Doyen said that since the event started, its popularity has surprised even her, with a line of people often wrapping around the building, waiting for the doors to open.

“It’s become almost like Black Friday,” said Doyen. “We expect more than 1,000 people to attend.”

Local artists begin making the Pumpkin Patch pumpkins in May. Many of these artists are volunteers who learn their craft while creating timeless pieces of art for FCAC to sell to the public. Some certified artists choose to rent studio space at FCAC and sell their signature pumpkins at the event, as well. Most of the pumpkins are made during creative binges with 10 or 15 artists expertly crafting more than 90 pumpkins every four hours. John Shoemaker is one such artist who hails from Philadelphia and is a current artist in residence and instructor at FCAC.

”The sense of excitement and empowerment stemming from manipulating molten glass is a constant inspiration for me as an instructor,” said Shoemaker. “I find that teaching glassblowing starts from a very different place than many other media, in the sense that you teach someone how to become aware of their body in motion and how the material responds to the actions of their body.”

These unique, artistic pumpkins are made using the traditional glassblowing technique, which involves inflating molten glass into a mold or by freeblowing short puffs of air using a metal blowpipe and working it into a particular shape. Color is applied during the process. For those interested in learning the craft, Shoemaker offers the popular “Make Your Own…(glass items)” and the one-day, three-hour workshops (Beginning I & II; Intermediate I & II) on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. A regional love for locally crafted goods is to thank for the success of the Pumpkin Patch event, the center itself and the classes that develop people’s artistic sensibilities, according to Doyen.

“This time of year, you can buy a glass pumpkin almost anywhere,” said Doyen. “But it’s not the same. These pumpkins are locally made with a lot of attention and artistry invested into each individual piece. People appreciate that.”