Blowing Bubbles: Craftsman’s Fun, Unbreakable Journey to Glass Master

Blowing Bubbles: Craftsman’s Fun, Unbreakable Journey to Glass Master

By: Brandei Clifton
February 15, 2024

 

Master craftsman Shawn Watt is sure glad his mom’s a sweet-talker.

When he was 17 years old in Michigan, she bought him a class to learn how to blow glass even though the enrollment age was 18 and up.

“She’s pretty convincing,” he smiles. “I’m so glad the instructor let me in because I found a real passion there. A real fit.”

It may have been a good fit but it certainly wasn’t easy. While “blowing bubbles” sounds like kids’ stuff, Shawn quickly learned that techniques used to blow glass take incredible mind and hand connections.

“I was also taking welding classes in high school at the time so that helped,” he recalls. “I wasn’t thinking about a career path. I was a kid just having fun!”

Glassblower Shawn

Time flies when you’re having fun. That instructor hired Shawn right after the class to blow glass and he spent the next two years trialing processes and perfecting his craft.

“That meant I had to break a lot of stuff first,” he laughs. “My early works included a lot of paperweights, bubbles, and crooked cups.”

He was a newlywed in 2009 when he and his wife attended a family reunion in Springfield, MO. The group ventured south to Branson and visited Silver Dollar City —a first for Shawn. He, of course, went to check out Hazel’s Blown Glass Factory and found out they needed a craftsman.

“They told me I could interview on my vacation. I had only packed shorts so I went to Wal-Mart and bought some professional clothes for the interview the next day,” he smiles. “I showed them photos of my work and they offered me a job for the summer.”

Shawn and his wife then drove from Branson to North Carolina where they were living, packed up the car, turned around, and drove back to Branson so he could start the job. They both thought it was a short-time gig for just the summer.

Flash forward more than 15 years later, and the hottest show at The City is still standing around the stage as Shawn shines doing his thing.

Here’s the thing though: He didn’t plan on the “performing” part when he was growing up with glass.

“Never in a million years did I think I’d be talking to folks as I worked,” he laughs. “That part took some getting used to but it’s so great to see their interest as I work.”

It takes a lot of hot stuff to make glass, so Shawn has to be extra cautious as he works his crowd and works his craft. He starts by gathering the liquid glass from the furnace like a big pot of honey —a blistering 2,100 degrees. He winds the molten glass on the stick before blowing a bubble, shaping it, or adding textures and colors.

“Blowing glass is really misunderstood,” he explains. “It’s a lot harder than it looks. There’s actually a lot of chemistry that goes behind getting the look that you want.

Even a master can be hard on himself. Shawn says it usually takes about 12 tries on a new product before the final look starts to come together. Even then, it can take a glass blower lots of trial and error to be happy with each creation.

And, there are so many creations! Shawn doesn’t have a favorite but does say the fuel that keeps him going is figuring out new things to make.

“Since I have a background in metal fabrication and building, I make a lot of new tools used in the process of figuring out new items. It’s like a puzzle. I guess you could say that making the things that make the things makes me smile.”

Something else that makes him smile is the thought of folks displaying flowers in a vase he made or putting fruit in a bowl he blew.

“It means a lot to me when someone buys something I’ve made,” he says. “There are so many talented craftsmen at our park, so for them to buy my glass is pretty cool.”
He admits he doesn’t keep a lot of the glass he makes. With three children in the house, some of the work he does keep is socked safely away.

“I honestly don’t hang on to much,” he smiles. “A few sentimental pieces are stored away. My mom, though, keeps some of those early globby things I made. I guess that’s what moms do.”
Whenever Shawn goes to Michigan to see family, he tries to stop by Water Street Glassworks in Benton Harbor.

Glassblower Shawn award

“As much as I love Silver Dollar City, I’ll never forget the shop that made me. I hope to inspire future glass blowers the way that shop in Michigan inspired me. I enjoy teaching the craft just as much as I enjoy sharing my art with the public. I’d love the opportunity to mentor future craftsmen. We are in the middle of a maker’s movement where handcrafted items are valued more than ever. What a good spot to be.”

Shawn is hiring glass blowers for his shop at Silver Dollar City. Check Out Job Opportunities

Snowmen Snowmen
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