Stepping into David Powers’ glassblowing studio is like stumbling onto a secret portal that leads to the molten core of the Earth.
As he opens the door to the main furnace, a radiant orange heat roars into the room. Inside, liquid glass shimmers white at 2,000 degrees F.
“Glass is a magical, mystical thing, a glob with all this potential, not unlike a teenager,” Powers says. He should know, having taught teenagers at Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS) for 40 years.
As current artist-in-residence at CRMS, Powers’ experience with the school runs wide and deep: as an alumnus, parent of an alumna, and teacher of blacksmithing
, Powers has been learning and teaching at CRMS for the past 45 years.
For the past 20 years, Powers has worked with glass in all its physical forms and has logged more than the requisite 10,000 hours of glassblowing to become a master of the art.
He’s quick to credit those who have influenced him over the years, and holds a special reverence for legendary blacksmith and founder of the CRMS blacksmithing program Francis Whitaker.
“Francis always said, ‘Many people look, but few people see.’ Glassblowing creates an opportunity for students to see, to make them more aware of reality,” Powers said.
As Powers gathers molten glass on the end of a four-foot metal pipe, he holds the pipe horizontal to the ground and begins to spin it rapidly. The glass begins to plasticize to the consistency of honey, threatening to drip to the floor as he slows the spinning speed.
“You’ve got to keep it balanced, centered and moving,” he says, spinning faster, causing the molten mass at the end of the pipe to take shape once again. “Students sign up for glassblowing, but it’s really pipe turning,” he laughs.
It’s evident that glassblowing is much more than pipe turning, both to Powers and his students.
“Being able to work with a lava-like material is not a common practice. It’s something that I look forward to every service crew and has truly become a passion of mine,” says CRMS senior Oliver Morgan, who has been working with Powers for two years and is now a student assistant.
Powers sees glassblowing as means to inspire students in their academic pursuits.
“Math, chemistry, geology, physics – these all come into play in glassblowing. I’m not trying to teach these concepts, but I point to them throughout the process and try to get the kids excited about the practical application of these subjects,” Powers says. “A lot has to do with being excited to learn and being willing to take risks, knowing it’s possible to succeed.”
Powers’ interest in glassblowing was sparked, when at the age of 10, he witnessed master glassblowers in Murano, Italy, during a trip with his parents.
“The first time I saw glass being blown, I knew I wanted to do this before I died,” Powers recalled.
It wasn’t until a former student, Dylan Katz, caught wind of his teacher’s desire – and pestered him for more than a year – that Powers agreed to offer a week-long glassblowing interim
Powers and Katz built the glassblowing studio from the ground up by modifying a raku kiln to act as a furnace, creating ceramic bowls to melt the glass in, and making all their own glassblowing tools in the blacksmithing shop. Many are still used today.
“I actually taught glassblowing before I ever blew any glass,” Powers said.
“It was magical,” Powers remembered from that first experience. “I immediately saw the value of glassblowing and how it affected kids – how they worked together and seemed transformed by the experience.”
He points to a simple drinking glass sitting on the shelf of a display case among his colorful tumblers, vases, and bowls, “This is the piece I’m most proud of – my first glass.”
Today, Powers’ intent for glassblowing, and life, is displayed on the wall of the studio with three signs written in bold, black lettering: Clear Intention, Deliberate Steps, and Reflect On Outcome.
“That last one is definitely the most challenging,” he says. “We want to distance ourselves from our mistakes, but then we don’t learn from them. Most people think that mistake equals incompetent. Not so. Mistake equals human.”
Essential to the philosophy that CRMS promotes is a strong belief that meaningful work is a necessary aspect of life and learning. Powers couldn’t agree more.
“Glassblowing offers students the opportunity to feel passion for an activity and develop very real skills,” he said. “Students make items and see them used.”