A family that blows glass together stays together. Or something like that. Joe Hobbs led his young adult son and daughter to make glass pumpkins for the Pumpkin Patch, an annual fundraiser for the First City Art Center on October 9.
“These are the contributions we give to Pumpkin Patch,” Hobbs explained, as the trio produced new work on a recent Sunday afternoon.
The Hobbs trio began their project last July in the glassblowing studio of the First City Art Center, a bustling workshop or “hot shop”.
“We all have our own roles,” said Hobbs, during the three-hour session.
Their assembly line begins with Hobbs’ son, Samson, spinning a ball of molten colored glass from an oven at 2120 degrees with a long metal pipe. He hands it to his father, who squeezes the bulb-sized mass into a mold before blowing into a tube, inflating it into a spherical shape. After smoothing it out with a tool, he tapers part of it to break the pipe before handing it to his daughter, Sierra. With a solid steel rod called a punty, Sierra takes a new hot glass ball and twists one end of it with another rod to create a unique curly rod.
“You have to do it perfectly, otherwise it’s going to come down too fast,” Hobbs said. “You only get one hit.”
Once the stem is attached, the pumpkin is transported to the annealing oven where it begins its 24-hour cooling phase from 920 degrees to room temperature.
“It will stay warm enough that it doesn’t cool too quickly and crack, but cold enough that it doesn’t continue to sag,” he said.
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Samson and Sierra have been a part of this pumpkin production since they were in high school, but they started following their father when they were much younger.
“We were around Belmont (Art Center) all the time, hanging out and playing with clay and jumping in it every now and then,” recalls Sierra. “The first thing I made was a pumpkin when I was 11. I still have it.”
Samson, who is a few years younger than Sierra, was working in a marina when Joe recruited him last summer to be his assistant. Samson’s job as a stevedore prepared him for the heat and the toil of the stoves.
“There is, without a doubt, a steep learning curve in glassblowing,” Samson said. “However, I can see the improvement and confidence growing as each day passes in the hot store.”
The family shares the studio with the 20 or so other glassblowers who are busy making pumpkins and their own unique pieces throughout the week. Each working artist is required to donate 15% of their pumpkin pumpkin production while the rest will be sold at a percentage.
Hobbs is still credited with bringing the art of glass to Pensacola. A Navy brat, he lived in Cuba, the Bahamas, and Key West, before ending his teenage years in Monterrey, California, where he graduated from high school in 1993. He was accepted to Rhode. Island School of Design for its design. After a year, he returned to the West Coast to enroll in the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. There, he took a glassmaking course and converted on the spot.
“I walked into the studio and was immediately won over by the material and have been doing it ever since,” he recalls.
The timing could not have been better. The mid-90s was the era of salad glass art as Dale Chihuly, the founder of the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle, became a household word.
Joe’s parents moved to Pensacola to retire and he followed them in 1998 when Sierra was born. At that time, the glass movement had not yet arrived here, so he was content to assemble material with other glass enthusiasts to continue what he learned at CCA. Soon after, the Belmont Art Center was founded and in 2001 he invited Hobbs to create a glass making program.
“It was the very first glass studio on the Gulf Coast. I am the godfather of glass in this area, ”he said.
Belmont’s program took off, attracting support from collectors, home builders and occasional buyers, elevating its role in the arts community. After Belmont became the First City Art Center, Hobbs continued to fortify his career by earning a BFA in Sculpture at UWF in 2008 and worked three summers at Pilchuck, which took him to the next level. In 2010, he was hired as an exhibition director at Space 301 in Mobile – now the Alabama Contemporary Art Center – for three years, followed by a position at Wimberley Glass Works in Texas. Preferring to be closer to his family, he returned to Pensacola in 2015 to pick up where he started at the ACFC.
The difference this time was that her children were old enough to give back. Sierra began to strengthen her social media presence, creating opportunities for more commissions, with help from Samson. A local actress and singer, Sierra sees her hot shopping hours as a creative outlet.
“It’s definitely what I do for fun and probably will do it forever,” she said.
After the pumpkins, Samson will follow up with Joe in the Christmas season, filling orders for ornaments and trees and projects for the New Year.
“Yes, I saw myself continuing with my dad and eventually becoming more confident to create my own pieces in the near future,” he said.
Outside of the ACFC, Hobbs continues to grow his brand. As the region’s first glass artist, it seems fitting that he passes it on to his children.
“It’s very significant. And it’s really gratifying to be able to share this experience with Sierra and Samson, ”he said. “It’s like the best of both worlds.”
15th Annual First City Art Center Pumpkin
Blue Wahoos Stadium, 351 W. Cedar St.
Free entry from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on October 9
First Pick tickets are available for early entry at 11:00 a.m. for members ($ 30 plus taxes and fees) and noon admission for non-members ($ 40 plus taxes and fees). Pumpkin fees are not included.
More information: [email protected]