Master of Art and Science

Text by Robert Kiener Photography by Webb Chappell

Prasch has been addicted to glass for a long time. She took her first flame-working classes (using torches to fashion a piece instead of blowing molten glass at the end of a pipe) at the YWCA in Nebraska when she was just thirteen years old. “I was hooked instantly,” she remembers. She soon apprenticed to a scientific glass blower and took workshops from well-known glass artists such as Ray Schultz and Lino Tagliapietra.

Tucked into the compact basement studio of her home in Montague, Massachusetts, glass artist Sally Prasch chats with a visitor about her childhood (“challenging”), her education (“varied”), and her career (“rewarding”). Sitting at a six-foot-square worktable that is covered with scorch marks from years of glass flame-working, she’s a bit shy, even hesitant, often punctuating her responses with a small, nervous laugh. Her green eyes dart around as she carefully considers, then answers, questions.

“Maybe I should show you what I mean,” says Prasch, when asked a technical question about working with glass. As she flicks a match to power up a propane bench torch—whoosh—she is suddenly transformed. The soft-spoken, mild-mannered artist seems to come alive as she works a ten-inch-long tube of borosilicate glass under the steady blue and yellow flame. Constantly turning and working the tube in the 3,000-degree flame, Prasch effortlessly stretches and tapers it. “Exciting, isn’t it?” she asks as she magically shapes the thin tube into an elegant flower stem. “I can’t get enough of this!”

Her eyes light up and she giggles as she demonstrates how she can make something so beautiful out of something so basic as fire and glass. “I have often said that working with glass mesmerizes me,” Prasch confesses as she blows into one end of another glass tube, transforming it—like a butterfly from a chrysalis—into a delicate vase. Holding up her latest creation, she says with a wide grin, “This is addictive!”

Prasch has been addicted to glass for a long time. She took her first flame-working classes (using torches to fashion a piece instead of blowing molten glass at the end of a pipe) at the YWCA in Nebraska when she was just thirteen years old. “I was hooked instantly,” she remembers. She soon apprenticed to a scientific glass blower and took workshops from well-known glass artists such as Ray Schultz and Lino Tagliapietra.

Although Prasch now works three days a week as a scientific glass blower at Syracuse University, where she repairs and fabricates everything from intricate, complex vacuum manifolds to massive bell jars, she is best known as a much sought-after, award-winning glass artist. Her work is in private collections around the world and has been featured in several books on glass art.

Prasch frequently incorporates scientific glass blowing techniques into her artistic works. For example, she’s known for pieces that feature a figure encased within a bubble of glass. “That technique came out of my laboratory work, where I am often asked to put a tube inside a tube,” she explains. There is a strong similarity between scientists and artists, she says. “They are both creative, reaching for something unknown that they see in their mind’s eye.”

Prasch’s glass creations include everything from jewelry to sculpture to vessels. She enjoys taking commissions and likes the “back and forth” of working with clients to come up with a design that is mutually rewarding. Her career in scientific glass blowing (she is one of only a handful of women among some 700 men in the field) allows her, as she explains, “to make the artistic pieces I want to make instead of just the pieces that sell.”

Today Prasch notes that her work is inspired by “anything and everything.” She picks up a work in progress, a delicate glass-and-bronze sculpture that will eventually include a glass bird, glass scissors and a glass rope. “This was inspired by what my father told me on his deathbed. He envisioned a beggar coming to his memorial service, tying a rope around him then cutting it so he could fly free,” she says. “My work is about the emotional space surrounding me when I am creating. My work tells a story, and I have so many more stories to tell.”

As Prasch nimbly shapes a seven-inch-long glass tube of clear glass into an elegant glass vase, she admits that she is perfectly content to be living two lives. “At scientific shows they say, ‘There’s the woman who does artistic glass,’ while at glass art shows they call me, ‘the woman who does scientific glass blowing.’ No one can pigeonhole me.”

She switches off the propane flame and, as it “pop pops” out of life, adds, “I like that.”

EDITOR’S NOTE Sally Prasch’s work will be on display in the exhibit Who’s Who: Roll Call 2010, March 5–April 30 at the Essex Art Center, Lawrence, Mass., (978) 685-2343, www.essexartcenter.com. To see more of her work, visit www.praschglass.com

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