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Zimmerman Art Glass blows away the summer blues

June 25, 2008
Gas prices got you down? Don't know of any way to beat the heat? Think affordable family fun is a thing of the past? Well, if you're in need of some welcome distractions, look no further than your own backyard. Residents of Crawford, Floyd and Harrison counties will be pleased to learn that there are plenty of interesting places to visit within the tri-county area that don't require a lot of money for admission or traveling. In a new weekly column, the Clarion News will feature places that you can take your family for a good time on the cheap. This week we'll be featuring Zimmerman Art Glass.

There's no denying that the town of Corydon is rich with history in the form of the First State Capitol, the Constitution Elm and other notable landmarks. However, these attractions sometimes overshadow the great local history that the town has to offer. One such piece of history can be found down on Valley Road in the same place it's been for the past 67 years.

Zimmerman Art Glass is a family-owned business run by Bart and Kerry Zimmerman who are carrying on the tradition their grandfather started in 1941. The Zimmermans specialize in hand-crafted glass works of art. The pieces display both a knowledge of color and aesthetic, as well as the skill of an experienced craftsmen. The brothers have over 50 years combined experience with the trade, but Bart admitted that it's still a learning experience.

A candy dish re-enters the reheat oven. (Photos by Nick Simpson)
"It took me about five years before I got really good at it," he said, "but I'm constantly learning."

One would think that in 60 years the process of glass working would change drastically, but surprisingly it has remained almost as it was in the brothers' grandfather's day. The only real change comes with the preparation of the glass. The actual forming of the glass into works of art takes only 15 to 20 minutes, but the making of the glass itself can take up to 20 hours.

The Zimmermans used to make the glass in the shop themselves, but they now order pre-made clear glass pellets that they can simply heat in their ovens to the required 2,100 degrees Farenheit to form the viscous melted glass. These ovens must stay on 24 hours a day to maintain the heat needed to melt the glass.

"The pellets are safer and cleaner because they don't create all the dust we used to have when we made the glass ourselves," Bart said.

After the glass is heated, the brothers can then move it from the furnace to the reheat oven on a rod. This allows the glass to stay hot while they get their work area ready.

The process of forming glass is done in quick short bursts. The worker will take the glass from the reheat oven and form it with cup-shaped pieces of wood soaked in water. The water creates a seal of steam that protects the wood from catching fire and allows the glass to be manipulated easily. Each shaping session lasts about 30 seconds to a minute and then the piece must be placed back in the reheat oven to get it hot again.

To make hollow pieces, glassblowing is required. There are two forms of blowing, one is done with a blowpipe where the worker will actually blow a bubble into the glass and the other is done with a steam stick, which is essentially a wet stick that makes a bubble of steam in the glass. If color is needed in a piece, which it usually is, crushed colored glass is added to the reheat oven. Depending on the intricacy of the piece, the forming process can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.

The glass is then moved on to the cooling oven that stays at a constant 900 degrees Farenheit. The glass must be cooled slowly to prevent cracking and to hide the stress points made by working the glass. The cooling process takes about 15 hours.

Illustration by Alisha Sonner
"I turn off the oven when we leave at night," Bart said, "and by next morning the pieces are ready."

The finished product is a unique, hand-crafted crystalline beauty that expresses a love and respect of the raw materials from whence it was formed.

"Glass is such a pretty thing," Bart said as he wiped the sweat from his brow. "It's not like metal. It's more pliable. Its changes from solid to liquid are much slower as well."

The Zimmermans fill several orders a day for customers who request everything from paperweights to pitchers. When they have down time, the brothers also make pieces to sell in the shop for tourists and students on field trips.

During the months of April and May, the Zimmermans see a lot of business from elementary schools as students make their annual trips to the First State Capitol. This past year the Zimmermans counted 119 bus loads come through their shop.

As dangerous as glassworking sounds, it's actually quite safe and fun for kids to watch. The Zimmermans offer free tours and demonstrations during business hours. Although they usually do not fill requests upon arrival at the shop, the brothers do offer an array of already made pieces that children and parents alike can purchase for their homes.

Cost: FREE

Hours: Tuesdays - Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Contact information: Bart or Kerry Zimmerman, 738-2206
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