Glassmaking Runs Through the Veins of This Pensacola Family

A family that blows glass together stays together. Or something like that. Joe Hobbs brought his young adult son and daughter to make glass pumpkins for this year’s Pumpkin Patch, an annual fundraiser for the First City Art Center on October 9.

“These are the contributions we give to the Pumpkin Patch,” Hobbs explained, as the trio produced new work on a recent Sunday afternoon.

The Hobbs trio began their project last July at the First City Art Center’s glassblowing studio, a bustling workshop or “hot shop.”

“We all have our own roles,” Hobbs said, during the three-hour session.

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Their assembly line begins with Hobbs’ son Samson spinning a globe of molten colored glass from a 2,120 degree oven with a long metal pipe. He hands it to his father, who presses the light bulb-sized mass into a mold before blowing it through a tube, inflating it into a spherical shape. After smoothing it with a tool, he tapers off part of it so he breaks off the pipe before handing it to his daughter, Sierra. With a strong steel rod called a punty, Sierra takes a hot new glass globe and twists one end with another rod to create a unique curly rod.

“You’ve got to do it perfectly or it’s going to fall apart too quickly,” Hobbs said. “You only get one hit.”

Joe, Sampson and Sierra Hobbs work on hand-blown pumpkins and ghosts for the First City Art Center's 15th Annual Pumpkin Patch.

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 not to cool too quickly and crack, but cold enough not to keep falling apart,” he said.

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Samson and Sierra have been 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 around every once in a while,” Sierra recalled. “The first thing I made was a pumpkin when I was 11. I still have it.”

Sampson Hobbs and his father Joe work on hand-blown pumpkins and ghosts for the First City Art Center's 15th Annual Pumpkin Patch.

Samson, who is a few years younger than Sierra, was working at a marina when Joe recruited him last summer to be his assistant. Samson’s grind as a dockworker prepared him for the heat and toil of the ovens.

“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 shop.”

The family shares the workshop with the twenty or so other glassblowers who work throughout the week making pumpkins and their own unique pieces. Each working artist is required to donate 15% of their pumpkin production to the Pumpkin Patch while the rest will be sold at a percentage.

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Hobbs is still credited with introducing 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 his drawing. 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 course in glassmaking and converted on the spot.

“I walked into the studio and was immediately taken with the material and have been doing it ever since,” he recalls.

Joe and Sierra Hobbs work on hand-blown pumpkins and ghosts for the First City Art Center's 15th Annual Pumpkin Patch.

The timing couldn’t have been better. The mid-90s was the salad era for 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 settled for assembling material with other glass enthusiasts to continue what he had learned at the CCA. Soon after, Belmont Art Center was founded, and in 2001 he called on Hobbs to create a glass-making program.

“It was the very first glass studio on the Gulf Coast. I’m the godfather of glass in this area,” he said.

Belmont’s program took off, attracting support from collectors, home designers and casual buyers, cementing its role in the art community. After Belmont became the First City Art Center, Hobbs continued to fortify his career earning a BFA in Sculpture from UWF in 2008 and worked three summers at Pilchuck which took him to the next level. In 2010, he was hired as 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 ACFC.

The difference this time was that his children were old enough to give back. Sierra began to build her social media presence, creating opportunities for more commissions, helped by Samson. A local actress and singer, Sierra sees her hours as a creative outlet.

“It’s definitely what I do for fun that I will probably do forever,” she said.

After the pumpkins, Samson will move on with Joe into the Christmas season, filling orders for ornaments and trees and projects for the new year.

“Yes, I saw myself continuing with my father and possibly becoming more confident to create my own pieces in the near future,” he said.

Outside of the ACFC, Hobbs continues to build his brand. As the first glass artist in the region, it seems natural that he would pass it on to his children.

“It’s very significant. And it’s really rewarding 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 Patch

Blue Wahoos Stadium, 351 W. Cedar St.

Free admission from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on October 9

First Pick tickets are available for early entry at 11 a.m. for members ($30 plus tax and fees) and noon entry for non-members ($40 plus tax and fees). Pumpkin costs are not included.

More info: [email protected]