The hottest elective on campus right now

Photos: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami

By Kelly Montoya

Photos: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami

The hottest elective on campus right now

By Kelly Montoya
A glassblowing class is exposing students to the ancient craft, with some finding a new passion and a new way to express their art.

At the glassblowing studio at the University of Miami, senior lecturer in the Art and Art History Department Jenna Efrein starts her Wednesday morning class by asking her students if they would like some coffee. 

The students collectively nod their heads “yes” and then gather around Efrein as she dips the tip of a long blowpipe into a 2,000-degree furnace. She then proceeds to explain the techniques behind inflating the glob of molten glass with little puffs of air, finally converting it into a hand-sculpted warming plate for a stove top espresso maker.

Jenna Efrein brewing espresso

“It’s ready,” she said, as the coffee machine finished its brew.Glass blowing coffee

“In this class, students will step outside the typical classroom parameters,” explained Efrein. 

“I tell my students, it's kind of like learning how to tango in a 2,000-degree room. It’s a serious commitment that requires practice, effort, and a lot of work," said Efrein. "But it’s one of the most rewarding classes you can take.”Students in glassblowing class

Student working with glassNow, for the first time, the department has an independent study student who is focusing on integrating both glassblowing and painting together. 

“It’s a sign of growth in our area,” said Efrein. 

Grace Chepenick, a second-year fine arts student, is in the vanguard of glassblowers by fusing this ancient craft with her love for painting and her affinity for nature, wildlife, and the landscapes of South Florida.Grace Chepenick 

Unknowingly, her early years prepared her for this unique opportunity she now intends to make her career out of. She inherited the love for painting from her grandmother who is a watercolorist and started painting when she was only four years old.

One day, out of curiosity, Chepenick decided to take her first glassblowing class.

“It all started because I would watch in awe as students worked in the glassblowing studio when I was taking my intro to 3-D design class. I was very interested in what they were making and the process of the material, so I decided to take that class after a semester of peeking inside the studio,” said Chepenick.

“I fell in love with glass in a totally different way and wanted more,” she recalled. 

Grace Chepenick's glass creationsLast summer, she took a class in Brooklyn with Cappy Thompson, a Seattle-based artist who has been painting glass since 1976. 

“This opened up a way for me to combine my two passions in art and continue pursuing and fusing both," she said. 

Independent study artworkShe cites that living in Miami is a source of inspiration for her independent study work. 

“I am a huge colorist and so is the city, so being in Miami reinforces my love for color and light. My goal throughout this body of work is to create a series that shows my affection for the wildlife and natural beauty that South Florida encompasses,” she said.

Her work is also largely inspired by the cultures and rituals of the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes.

“I am researching their prayers, relationships with plants, animals and family, and their land. I’ve been exploring the everglades for inspiration in this series of work to try to capture these aspects of the land and people,” she said.

Chepenick has dedicated herself to creating work that is aesthetically pleasing, while it still speaks to people on a deeper meaning.

“Setting is very important to me, not necessarily the imagery of a landscape but the feeling I get when I’m there and capturing that in the work. My work also focuses on human connectivity to nature and beings around them, and I feel that surrounding landscapes affects the person on a deep level.”

In the end, Chepenick said the program has allowed her to gain skills that will benefit her in her planned career path.

“Glassblowing has taught me perseverance and to continually work hard to make progress. I felt like quitting after the first class because of how challenged I was, but I am so glad I stuck with it because I have found another passion of mine,” she said.

“I have known since I was younger, I want to be an artist, but did not know it would entail glass until this course.”