Knoxville glass blower shares his craft with others

Knoxville glass blower shares his craft with others

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Matt Salley's work begins in this furnace where the internal temperature is 2,100 degrees. That is hot enough to keep glass in a molten state. Matt Salley's work begins in this furnace where the internal temperature is 2,100 degrees. That is hot enough to keep glass in a molten state.
As it's placed onto the blowpipe, the glass begins to cool, allowing Salley to blow the glass and work it into a particular shape. As it's placed onto the blowpipe, the glass begins to cool, allowing Salley to blow the glass and work it into a particular shape.
To keep the glass hot, he returns it to a reheater often. To keep the glass hot, he returns it to a reheater often.
"To see the glass do things you didn't think glass could do or never stopped to think about - that's what got me hooked," said Matt Salley. "To see the glass do things you didn't think glass could do or never stopped to think about - that's what got me hooked," said Matt Salley.
During our visit, Salley was finishing a Christmas tree like these on display. Each tree is perfect in its imperfection. During our visit, Salley was finishing a Christmas tree like these on display. Each tree is perfect in its imperfection.

By GENE PATTERSON
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Collecting Christmas ornaments is something that most of us do. We usually add a new one each year. So how about instead of buying the next one, you make it?

At Marble City Glassworks, artisan Matt Salley is ready to show you how.

Salley goes about the art of glass making with a practiced hand.

It is delicate, hot work, and it begins in a furnace where the internal temperature is 2,100 degrees. That is hot enough to keep glass in a molten state.

As it's placed onto the blowpipe, the glass begins to cool, allowing Salley to blow the glass and work it into a particular shape. To keep the glass hot, he returns it to a reheater often.

"There's only two rules: gravity and heat. You've got to make sure you keep it on the end of the rod, and you have to make sure you have enough heat in it, or it's going to break or fall off," said Salley.

Salley began working with glass after being laid off from a catering job more than 20 years ago.

He took a part time job with a glass maker, and what he learned changed his life. 

"To see the glass do things you didn't think glass could do or never stopped to think about - that's what got me hooked."

Now, he's trying to hook others to the craft. 19-year-old Drew is Salley's apprentice. He's been working with the glass maker for a year and caught the bug after taking a class from Salley.

Salley says Drew's example is not uncommon. One class often turns into many as new craftsmen attempt to make the perfect glass object, which even for experienced glass blowers like Salley is nearly impossible.

"I don't think I can say I've ever made a perfect piece. But I've made a lot that I'm proud of," he said.

During our visit, Salley was finishing a Christmas tree, many of which are on display. Each tree is perfect in its imperfection.

The newest one will spend time cooling down in another furnace called an annealer.. and eventually emerge a Christmas tree fit to be called Made in Tennessee.

If you'd like to check out Salley's works up close, he'll be at the Foothills Crafts Fair at the Jacobs Building in Chilhowee Park from Nov. 14 to 17. 

You can also learn more about Salley and Marble City Glassworks at their website.

If you know of a product we should profile for Made in Tennessee, send us an email.

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