Artist For a Day: Blowing Glass With Owen Pach

Cathy Salustri

Artist For a Day: Blowing Glass With Owen Pach

Kelli Umstead always wanted to blow glass. This 45-year-old restaurant owner and mother of a pre-teen has long admired glass artwork, but she’s never actually tried it.

Until this week. Kelli volunteered to help out the Gabber as an artistic guinea pig. While we frequently run artist profiles, we thought it would be interesting to see how a layperson viewed making art with some of South Pinellas local artists.

“I’ve always been interested in art but never found my niche that would be a good fit for me. I went to a Chihuly exhibit 20 years ago and fell in love with art glass. I always wanted to try it,” she says.

Kelli got her chance Tuesday morning. Glass artist Owen Pach volunteered to spend the morning teaching the art of blowing glass to Kelli.

“You could really tell how much he enjoys what he does. He was very quick to answer questions and very detailed in his explanations. He didn’t get upset when I asked a zillion questions,” she said of Owen Pach later.

Kelli’s “Artist for a Day” started with her selecting colored bits of glass, called frits, to make her glass ornament. She chose three colors and an opalescent white. Owen started molten clear glass on a long metal rod, but then it was up to Kelli to follow his instructions to hold the rod in the fire and turn the it, keeping the liquid glass centered on the pipe.

“If you don’t turn it, it globs off. Think of Dali’s melting clocks,” Kelli explained. “Once it’s off-center, he said you can never get it back on center.”

Next, she added the frits and put the road back the fire. After all the frits colored the clear glass, Owen let Kelli make hatch marks to swirl the colors on the glass. The glass took another turn in the fire, then Owen showed Kelli how to blow into the rod to transform the glass from a glob of molten silica to a thin sphere streaked with teal, mauve and lime.

“Being able to go in and blow glass for the first time was a dream come true,” Kelli says. “I always thought it would be fun, and it was, it was!”

While Owen watched over the process, gently coaching and supervising and, towards the end, fashioning the hook at the top of Kelli’s ornament, Kelli says she felt like she has blown glass.

“For my first time, I was playing with 3,000º molten blown glass, so I was thankful he was there, helping. I was glad he was hands-on instead of just telling me what to do,” she says.

Her love for glass won’t end with her “Artist For a Day”; after her first time, Kelli’s hooked. She plans to take a class at the Industrial Art Center in Gulfport, where she will learn more glass blowing techniques.

Neither Owen Pach nor the Industrial Arts Center received any compensation for participating in “Artist For a Day”, and neither Kelli nor the Gabber paid for Kelli’s participation. If you want to be considered for a our next “Artist For a Day”, either as an artist or a student, please e-mail