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John Sharvin’s cosmic art is fragile but fun

For this Pittsburgh resident who graduated in 2012, breaking celestial bodies is just part of the live-and-grow experience of blowing glass.

A white man wearing thick-rimmed glasses looks focused as he blows into a pipe used to inflate hot glass. The artist looks hot and tired — his short hair is messed up, as if he has run his hands through it many times.

Artist John Sharvin blows through a pipe to inflate heated glass into a bubble that can be shaped.

John Sharvin ’12 has been an artist working with glass — also known as a glassblower or gaffer — for 15 years, but he’s reminded nearly every day that he hasn’t mastered his craft.

“It is so hard to actually be flawless at it,” he says. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Sharvin finds motivation in the daily challenge of heating molten glass, inflating the material with a steel blowpipe, then molding, sculpting and shaping that bubble into a vessel, object or sculpture.

“The most exciting thing about working with glass is every single time you’re in the studio, you learn something new,” says Sharvin, who grew up in Worthington, Ohio. “You’re learning new things for the rest of your life.”

A blow torch is used on the glass stem of a many-sided clear glass piece, intended to represent a star for a celestial cluster. An artist holds the torch while stabilizing the glass work he just created. It is still attached to the pipe he used to blow air into the bubble of glass, before shaping.

Sharvin works on what will be a star for an upcoming space-themed exhibit.

He considered an engineering career, but a glassblowing class he took shortly after transferring to Ohio State as a sophomore spurred him to focus on that field. He eventually worked eight years as a studio technician manager at the Pittsburgh Glass Center before deciding in 2022 to strike out on his own as a full-time artist in that city.

The shift led Sharvin to participate as one of 10 contestants in the third season of “Blown Away,” a glassblowing competition show on Netflix.

We spent a day with Sharvin as he made glass art for an exhibition that runs until late July at the Pittsburgh Glass Center.

A bearded white man wearing thick-framed glasses, a zip-up and a knitted winter hat pours coffee from a thermos into a hand-made mug. He’s in his kitchen, and in the background, there are a brick wall, white cabinets and shelf with bottles of alcohol.

8 a.m. Some coffee gets me ready for a busy day. I take out Charlie, my 14-year-old dog, and pack my computer, snacks, water bottle, protein shakes and some art supplies. Check my list. Let’s go.

A man climbing stairs and carrying a box of supplies appears as a black silhouette in front of a glass wall. The brightness from outside shines through a couple of elaborately patterned stained glass windows and the building next door is painted with bright colors.

8:40 a.m. Always nice to walk into the Pittsburgh Glass Center, only 10 minutes from my Morningside neighborhood. It’s like home away from home. I’ll be working alongside friends. We’re a tight community of artists.

a canvas pouch laid out flat brimming with the metal tools of glass blowing. The craftsmen's hands are visible just above the array.

10 a.m. Unpack my handmade tools. Set up the workstation, including a reheating chamber, which I rented for the next four hours. We call this the Hot Shop. The reheating chamber I’ll use to manipulate glass has temperatures ranging from 2,000 to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit.

A bearded Black man wearing glasses and a bandana around his head blows into flexible plastic piping connected to a steel blowpipe, which is, in turn, connected to many-sided clear-glass shapes sitting on a worktable. The shapes, representing stars, are connected in a cluster. A white bearded man wearing glasses leans in close to examine the stars. The men’s expressions show a similar determined focus on their work.

11 a.m. I hired Percy Echols II, a friend and fellow glass artist, to serve as my assistant today. We enjoy working together and can communicate without even talking. It’s like knowing the steps of a dance, and every movement matters when you’re doing the repetitive process required for these star cluster shapes.

A white man grimaces with effort as he uses giant tongs to stabilize a red-crackled-looking globe with black accents. His work partner, a Black man wearing a bandana, T-shirt and jeans, holds the long pipe attached to the glass globe—it is the tool they used to inflate the globe.

Noon I’m constructing a universe landscape for my upcoming art show. Space fascinates me. Here, Percy and I work on the sun. Good teamwork is necessary in using heat, gravity and tools such as these huge tweezers to transform glass into objects.

a close-up photo shows, on a worktable, a blowtorch being used to detail a glass ball with blue accents. The person doing the work, who can’t be seen, wears a heat-proof glove to stabilize the hot glass.

12:30 p.m. I use an intense flame to detail a glass moon that will be displayed with about 15 to 20 planets.

A man who seems tired or frustrated rubs his eyes while tipping his face toward the ceiling.

1:45 p.m. After a couple hours of shaping molten glass into a planet and moon, we have only 15 minutes left at our workspace. We’re rushing, and when you rush, you mess up. I blow air through a blowpipe to inflate heated glass into a bubble that can be shaped, but I’m not managing the temperature well. The glass sphere doesn’t cool properly and collapses. We were close to having it perfect, but it happens.

The artist stands in his cluttered personal studio, a small portion of an old auto body shop. He uses his phone to take reference photos of a current project involving grey moon-like glass spheres

4:15 p.m. After a quick lunch at home, I drive to my nearby personal studio, a 12-by-12-foot rented room in an old auto body shop. I work on inserting metal rods into my glass planets to display them at the show. It’ll make the art look nicer than just throwing it on the wall.

Two hands hold a moon with a tiny outhouse on top, whose door is ajar so a white toilet can be seen inside, and with a pine tree growing off the side. The moon is made of glass, but it is not shiny and smooth. It has craters and is a dull gray. Other moon sculptures are out of focus in the background.

6:30 p.m. Lately, I’ve been making miniature pieces out of wood, plexiglass, paint and paper. Astronauts. Telephone poles. Phone booths. Even a tiny outhouse. Adding the miniatures onto the glass planets provides a more detailed narrative in the work. I’m excited about this piece after seeing it in my head for a year.

A man wearing a winter hat and plaid shirt pets his dog in his living room. The dog holds a toy in its mouth and pushes the back of its head and neck against its owner’s leg. The dog has stand-up ears and is taller than the man’s knees. It has smooth fur longer than short but shorter than long.

8 p.m. I greet Charlie as I return home, but being here doesn’t mean work ends. My mind always churns. You play a lot of roles in being an artist. I love it. Today was a good day.

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